Police organizations on Wednesday praised the Senate — and the Democrats who broke ranks — for blocking President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division after strong lobbying against Debo Adegbile, who once helped overturn the death sentence of a convicted “cop killer.”
“We were most gratified,” Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, told Newsmax. “We’re ecstatic – and we’re very grateful to the Democratic senators who voted ‘no’ on this nomination.”
The vote was 47-52, with eight Democrats joining Republicans to end debate on Adegbile’s nomination and send it to a full floor vote.
With 51 votes needed to proceed with the nomination, the move represented the Democrats’ first major defeat since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked “the nuclear option” regarding presidential appointees in November.
“There’s a whole bunch of other things that he can do well,” Johnson said of Adegbile. “There are a ton of other men and women who are very well qualified who can serve as the assistant attorney general for civil rights who don’t have this baggage of having defended a cop killer.”
Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was “very proud and pleased that a majority of the Senate agreed with the FOP and other law-enforcement organizations on this nominee.”
“Many of our closest allies and champions . . . were conflicted between their belief that the president should be allowed to have his choice lead the civil rights division and the nearly unanimous opposition from the law-enforcement community,” he said.
“But I was very pleased and heartened that all of our allies, regardless of their vote today, listened to our earnest arguments and objections.”
Adegbile, 46, was working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when the organization intervened on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1981 and sentenced to death by a Pennsylvania court for brutally killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner after Abu-Jamal’s brother had been stopped by police.
The organization first became involved in the case in 2006, filing a court brief on Abu-Jamal’s behalf. Adegbile argued the case as the Legal Defense Fund’s head of litigation in 2011.
The death sentence was vacated by a federal court in a ruling that was later upheld by an appellate court and then allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court. Abu-Jamal is now serving life in prison.
The fund’s actions were strongly opposed by dozens of local and national police organizations — though they attracted such Hollywood celebrities as Ed Asner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Martin Sheen.
The slain officer’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, cheered Wednesday’s vote.
“I am very relieved that the Senate vote turned out the way it did,” she said in a posting on a website devoted to keeping her late husband’s memory alive. The headline on the statement read, “We Won.”
“I want to thank all of the senators that listened to their conscience and voted to block this nomination,” she said. “While this is a great result for my family, the law enforcement community and myself included, we know that we need to remain vigilant to ensure that this decision is not reconsidered.”
Seven Democrats broke ranks to vote with the Republicans. They were Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, John Walsh of Montana, and Chris Coons of Delaware.
Reid, who represents Nevada, then cast the eighth vote, which allows him to bring Adegbile’s nomination back for reconsideration. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination last month on a 10-8, party-line vote.
Adegbile is senior counsel to the committee’s chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Even though White House officials hinted that Adegbile’s nomination might be withdrawn, President Barack Obama quickly condemned the vote, calling it a “travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”
Republicans hit the ground running in the Senate floor debate, with Pennsylvania’s other senator, Pat Toomey, reading a letter from Maureen Faulkner.
“Today, as my husband lies 33 years in his grave, his killer has become a wealthy celebrity,” the GOP legislator read.
“Old wounds have once again been ripped open, and additional insult is brought upon our law enforcement community in this country by President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile,” Toomey read.
Other senators charged that Adegbile’s connection to the Abu-Jamal case disqualified him from holding higher office and that his appointment would lead him to “politicize” the civil rights division.
“Everyone deserves a fair trial and a zealous legal defense,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote. “Lawyers aren’t personally responsible for the actions of their clients. But lawyers are responsible for their own actions.
“In this case, the nominee inserted his office in an effort to turn reality on its head, impugn honorable and selfless law-enforcement officers, and glorify an unrepentant cop killer,” the Kentucky Republican added. “This is not required by our legal system. On the contrary, it is noxious to it.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, noted that Adegbile’s nomination was opposed by Seth Williams, a Democrat who is Philadelphia’s district attorney.
He added that Adegbile had “a long history of advocating legal positions far outside the mainstream.”
“It’s a record that demonstrates he is simply too deeply committed to these liberal causes to be an effective and fair leader of the civil rights division,” Grassley said.
After the vote, Coons, the Delaware Democrat, called his vote “one of the most difficult I have taken since joining the Senate, but I believe it to be right for the people I represent.”
He said he supported the nomination at the committee level because it “should be debated and considered by the full Senate. As a lawyer, I understand the importance of having legal advocates willing to fight for even the most despicable clients, and I embrace the proposition that an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client.”
“The decades-long public campaign by others, however, to elevate a heinous, cold-blooded killer to the status of a political prisoner and folk hero has caused tremendous pain to the widow of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and shown great disrespect for law-enforcement officers and families throughout our region,” Coons said.
Toomey said the vote represented “a good day for Pennsylvania, for America, and for those who believe in justice. It was a hard-fought victory to the end.”
“Today, the Senate affirmed that our criminal justice system must never be abused to propagate a dishonest, radical agenda,” Toomey said. “The American people, especially law enforcement and Maureen Faulkner, deserve better.”
Casey’s office released no statement on Wednesday’s vote, but the senator said on his website last week that he would not support Adegbile’s nomination.
“The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the city of Philadelphia,” Casey said.
Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus even hinted strongly that the vote would factor into this fall’s congressional elections.
Priebus called Adegbile “a convicted cop-killer’s most ardent defender,” and noted that several Democrats seeking new terms in swing states had voted to advance the nomination.
One such vulnerable Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, declined to comment on her vote for Adegbile, Politico reports.
Two other “red-state” Democrats facing tough challenges this fall, Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska, also voted for the nomination.
Besides Coons, two other Democrats on the ballot this fall, Pryor in Arkansas and Walsh in Montana, voted against Adegbile’s nomination.
In a statement to Newsmax later Wedneday, McConnell slammed the nomination as an example of Reid’s abuse of the Senate rules when he invoked “the nuclear option” last year.
The move lowered the number of votes needed to end filibusters on presidential nominees from 60 to a simple majority.
“This particular nominee would likely not have been nominated at all but for the majority leader breaking the rules of the Senate last November,” McConnell said. “This nominee was so unfit that even seven Democrats couldn’t support it.
“You begin to get the picture here: part of the reason for lowering the threshold was so that the president could send up anybody he wanted to, and presumably get them confirmed,” McConnell added. “He was too difficult for even seven Democrats to swallow.”
In sizing up the Senate vote to Newsmax, NAPO’s Johnson echoed McConnell.
“We figured that Sen. Casey would vote ‘no’ because Officer Faulkner was from Philadelphia, but we were really wondering which Democrats would come around.
“The bottom line was that this was just a poorly-thought-out nomination,” Johnson said. “Some of the most sensitive cases out there fall within his purview at the Department of Justice.
“It really just demands the highest level of implicit trust — both ways, between law enforcement and the attorneys at the Justice Department — in order to prosecute these cases.”
Based in Alexandria, Va., NAPO represents more than 250,000 sworn police officers.
“It really could have saved a lot of energy and heartache for the family and coworkers of Officer Faulkner” if Adegbile had not been nominated, Johnson told Newsmax. “To have this case dragged through the press again and again, it never ends.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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