The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), along with other bar associations and legal groups, expressed profound concern over the rejection of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In a letter to the 52 Senators who voted against the nomination, the coalition denounced the March 5 vote as detrimental to the legal system that should be protecting our fundamental rights.
As the letter states, “Rather than discussing the merits of Mr. Adebgile’s qualifications for the position, which both Republicans and Democrats have agreed are impeccable, the debate on the Senate Floor… was shaped by a smear campaign engineered by the influential Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).”
The campaign focused on Adegbile’s association with the defense of former death row inmate Mumia-Abu Jamal during his tenure at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF).
The Sixth Amendment assures the right to counsel and fair trial – the very principles for which Adegbile was criticized. As the letter states, “The Senate and the FOP are sending the message that lawyers who fulfill their mission of upholding the U.S. Constitution…should be disqualified from serving in high levels of the government.” The letter also cites ABA Model Rules that state that legal representation should not be denied to those “whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval.”
It should not go unmentioned that the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is characterized by violations of police misconduct and prosecutorial malfeasance, which are important to understanding the FOP’s campaign against Adegbile.
Senator Dick Durbin defended his nomination, recognizing the irony embodied by the arguments against Adegbile: “His willingness to represent an unpopular defendant in an emotionally charged case demonstrates his appreciation for the rule of law, as well as his respect for the criminal justice system.”
The NLG and the rest of the letter’s signatories decry the Senate’s shameful March 5 decision, and call on Senators to consider Adegbile’s qualifications for the Civil Rights DOJ position fairly and without bias.
Advocacy groups continue to sign on to the letter. To see the most recent list of signatories, visit nlg.org/defend-debo.