Critics of President Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division have described Debo Adegbile as “radical,” “dangerous” and “outside the mainstream.” Now he is facing heated criticism for his role in getting convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence overturned during his time as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF).
Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Adegbile was asked about the case during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week and replied, "It's important, I think, to understand that in no way does that legal representation, zealously as an advocate, cast any aspersion or look past the grievous loss of Sergeant Faulkner."
His critics, including Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., disagree. According to Fitzpatrick, "[Abu-Jamal's] attorneys ... attended a rally in Philadelphia and said that they could not have been prouder than to have had the opportunity not to represent justice, not to fight for the Constitution, but to represent Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Faulkner's widow, Maureen, says she is "outraged" by Obama’s decision to nominate Adegbile to such an important post. "To have a man who defended a murderer, someone who murdered a police officer with premeditation and malice, is a radical, is a Black Panther, and to give him an appointment, to nominate him, to the Department of Justice, I mean it's a disgrace."
Adegbile is senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., praised his "calm demeanor" and ability to "build consensus."
Leahy added, "He is a careful lawyer and good listener."
Dozens of organizations, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, penned a letter of support to the Senate as well - calling Adegbile "a tireless advocate, a skilled litigator, and a well-respected member of the legal community who is extraordinarily qualified for and suited to this position."
At the same time, Ed Whelan, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, contends there are questions about Adegbile's qualifications. There were reports that President Obama intended to nominate him to serve as a judge on the D.C. Circuit back in 2011, and that Adegbile was submitted to the American Bar Association (ABA) for a rating. Whelan says Adegbile didn't make it past the ABA's qualification screening.
Skeptics are also publicly speculating about whether Adegbile is the best fit to head up a department that has been the subject of much recent criticism. Last year the Justice Department's Inspector General released a report blasting the Civil Rights Division, citing inappropriateconduct, harassment of conservatives in the division, and the appearance of partisanship and racial politics.
Many wonder why the White House would tap such a controversial nominee when the Division is in need of a public relations boost.
Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow with the Heritage Foundation, believes the White House doesn't care about the public perception and says the administration sees the Division as "a tool to be used ... to do things like win elections."
He also says of Adegbile,,"He filed a brief in the Supreme Court in a case in which he said it was okay for universities to discriminate against white students because of their race in college admissions and said employers should not be able to do criminal background checks."
However, both Adegbile's supporters and detractors believe he will successfully navigate the Senate votes necessary to be confirmed to head up the Civil Rights Division in the near future.