Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. senator today joined the Democratic district attorney of Philadelphia in opposing President Obama’s nomination of a lawyer who defended a notorious cop killer to become the Justice Department’s top civil rights official.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on Obama’s pick of Debo Adegbile, the committee’s senior counsel and former chief of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to head Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
Adegbile’s legal work on behalf of convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal makes him “ill-suited for a pivotal role in the Justice Department,” Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams said in a letter yesterday to the Judiciary Committee, a copy of which was obtained by The Foundry.
Abu-Jamal was convicted of murder in the shooting of Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, during a traffic stop in the Center City area of Philadelphia in December 1981.
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) had been scheduled to appear with Williams and police officials Monday for a news conference on the Adegbile nomination at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Northeast Philadelphia, but snow forced cancellation of the event.
“The mission of the DOJ division that Mr. Adegbile would lead is to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals,” Toomey said in remarks posted today on his website. “This requires the head of the Civil Rights Division to have an absolute commitment to truth and justice. I do not believe that Mr. Adegbile demonstrated this commitment in his handling of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case.”
Prosecutors established that Abu-Jamal shot Faulkner once in the back, then stood over him and fired four more shots – the last of which, to the face, killed the officer. Abu-Jamal got the death sentence, but it later was overturned.
Various groups on the left have championed him over the years and sought his release from prison.
“As acting director of NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, Mr. Adegbile chose to inject his organization into the notorious case of … a convicted murderer who executed a Philadelphia police officer in cold blood,” Williams, a Democrat, said in his letter to Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) and Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Judiciary Committee.
Abu-Jamal, already well represented, “had large cash funds at his disposal,” Williams added.
Adegbile, 46, told the committee last month that although he and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund represented Abu-Jamal “zealously as an advocate,” that doesn’t “cast any aspersion” on Faulkner or his “grievous loss.”
Maureen Faulkner, the slain officer’s widow, told Fox News that she is “physically, emotionally and mentally distressed” that she isn’t able to testify before Judiciary, which held a hearing January 8. The Los Angeles resident said she only just learned about the vote and couldn’t book a flight to Washington in order to attend.
“This man voluntarily took on this case to try and get [Abu-Jamal] off of death row and probably out of prison,” Faulkner’s widow said of Adegbile. “Where are my civil rights?”
Letters to the Judiciary Committee have run heavily in favor of Adegbile. Those in the nominee’s corner include other federal and local prosecutors, leaders of civil rights organizations and the head of the American Bar Association, who has called opposition to him alarming.
A spokesman for Pennsylvania’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr., told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Casey has not made up his mind about Adegbile’s nomination.
This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.