Jeff Malet /Newscom

Jeff Malet /Newscom

Senate Republicans today attracted enough Democrats to reject President Obama’s nominee for a top Justice Department post, after an emotional debate over the lawyer’s role in championing the notorious killer of a Philadelphia police officer.

Under new Senate rules, the Obama Administration needed 51 votes to secure the nomination of Debo Adegbile as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, but fell four short in the 47-52 vote.  Vice President Joe Biden presided, in case his vote would be needed to break a tie.

Both of Pennsylvania’s senators, Republican Pat Toomey (at right in photo) and Democrat Robert Casey Jr., had come out against Adegbile  – Casey only last week,  as The Foundry reported, in the wake of Toomey’s efforts to publicize questions about  the nominee’s judgment.

Toomey, who took to the Senate floor to oppose the nominee a second time yesterday, highlighted Adegbile’s publicity-garnering campaign as an NAACP litigator to overturn Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Abu-Jamal had no shortage of lawyers appealing his conviction, Toomey argued.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former Justice Department official, welcomed the Senate vote against Adegbile:

“The senators who voted today to stop this nomination did a great service in preventing a radical with what can only be called extremist views on the law from taking control of one of the most powerful divisions of the Justice Department.”

Other Democrats who voted against Adegbile today were Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia (at left in photo), Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana. Notably, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also voted no, so that he could use Senate rules to bring the Adegbile nomination back to the floor later.

Maureen Faulkner, the slain officer’s widow,  told Fox News after the vote that Adegbile was “the wrong person for the job” and wished to thank the Democratic senators who “broke ranks and had the courage to do the right thing.”

Toomey, during a conference call with reporters Monday, noted that Reid’s much-disputed rule change allows the Senate to confirm presidential appointments without broad support because only 51 votes — rather than the previous 60 — are needed to prevent a filibuster by the minority. Under the old rules, Toomey noted, “The president was always under some pressure to find a broadly supported candidate.”

Adegbile joined Abu-Jamal’s cause in 2005 as an official with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He currently is  senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which backed his nomination in a 10-8 party-line vote.

The Adegbile nomination was opposed by Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, a Democrat, as well as other local officials and national law-enforcement groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police. However,  Obama’s nominee was supported by dozens of other groups – including legal scholars who praised his record as a civil rights litigator.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama called the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.