WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday voted to block Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s controversial nominee for assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, from being confirmed.
Adegbile’s nomination had been contested because of his history at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund defending notorious cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was found guilty of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid pleaded with the Democratic-controlled Senate to approve Adegbile’s nomination, but enough Democrats sided with Republicans on Wednesday afternoon to block a procedural step leading to a final vote. Fifty-two senators voted against proceeding, while 47 voted for it.
Faulkner’s wife has asked lawmakers to vote against Adegbile’s confirmation. “The thought that Mr. Adergbile would be rewarded, in part, for the work he did for my husband’s killer is revolting,” Maureen Faulkner wrote in a letter.
The Fraternal Order of Police has also called on lawmakers to vote against Adergbile because of the case, which they said “turned the justice system on its head with unfounded and unproven allegations of racism.”
Before the vote on Wednesday, lawmakers on both sides discussed Adegbile’s role in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case.
“Mr. Adegbile’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal does not mean he lacks respect for the rule of the law,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat. “And it certainly should not disqualify him for this important Civil Rights job. In fact, his willingness to represent an unpopular defendant in an emotionally-charged case demonstrates his appreciation for the rule of law.”
On the other side, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said: “There are many highly qualified Americans who can carry out this critical mission, and it is a critical mission. Mr. Adegbile’s record and what he has actually done creates serious doubts that he’s one of them.”
Vice President Biden, in his capacity as president of the Senate, took the unusual step of presiding over the Senate during the Adegbile vote in case he could break a tie. Biden was not able to step in, however, because over 50 Senators opposed Adegbile’s nomination.
Adegbile’s confirmation would have only required 51 votes. Last year, Senate Democrats — led by Reid, the Senate majority leader — took the drastic step of changing the body’s rules to prevent Republicans from being able to filibuster most of the president’s nominees.
By employing this “nuclear option,” Democrats changed the rules so that certain nominations voted on by the Senate only need a majority of votes to pass, instead of the traditional 60 votes.