Let's name some names. The Democrats voting not to confirm Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division were Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), John Walsh (Mont.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Chris Coons (Del.). Here's what they have in common. They disgraced themselves, their party, and most importantly the bedrock constitutional principle that a defendant -- that's all defendants no matter how putrid some consider them and the crimes they're charged with to be -- are entitled to counsel and a defense. These Democrats disgrace on all these counts was, of course, their vote against confirmation for Adegbile, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Their stated reason for torpedoing the confirmation was that he was a legal counsel for cause celebre black activist and convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. They tried to cover their ludicrous and indefensible opposition by spouting Adegbile's GOP's opponent's line that Adegbile didn't just provide counsel for Abu-Jamal but was an active political advocate for him. The implication being that he somehow was an impassioned supporter of Abu-Jamal and worse, shared his radical views on the criminal justice system. This is beyond nonsense. If there was even a scintilla of truth to this slander, then countless judicial nominees including Supreme Court nominees and stalwarts from liberal jurist Thurgood Marshall to conservative jurist John Roberts would and by this silly logic should never have been confirmed. They all at one time or another represented accused murderers in appeals in capital cases.
Adegbile repeatedly answered the slur against him, not that he needed to, with simple facts. He did not represent Abu-Jamal in any of his trials. There were blatant issues of racial discrimination in the jury selection and improper if not outright biased jury instruction in Abu-Jamal's trial. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund as it has done countless times in countless numbers of cases through the years wherever there's been an issue of racial bias in court cases took Abu-Jamal's appeal. Adegbile did not argue the case before the appeals court, as the right-wing outrageously and hysterically claims, but worked on and signed the legal briefs submitted to the court. The Fund got it right. And the appellate court agreed and tossed Abu-Jamal's death penalty sentence and he received life imprisonment.
But let's be clear, the Democratic senators didn't care a whiff about whether Adegbile was really a cop killer cheerleader. They cared solely about reelection. Or more accurately, they were scared stiff that they'd be hammered by their GOP opponents in their reelection bid for voting to confirm. In the process, they shamelessly disgraced themselves and their party and constitutional principles, and trudged another step down the dangerous road to reaffirm the lethal precedent, namely that all present and future administration appointments can be held hostage on the most spurious whim or reason by the hard core right-wing echo chamber.
The truth, of course, is that politics has repeatedly rammed its away into just about every crucial Obama administration judicial nominations and key appointments. Change the name from Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to Attorney General Eric Holder or former UN Ambassador Susan Rice or Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and one sees that the playbook the GOP is using again to slur Obama and his appointee is identical. The GOP picks what it considers the most vulnerable Obama nominee, then pecks away at a peripheral issue to malign the nominee, and then threatens to delay or block the nomination in either hearings before a Senate Committee, or on the Senate floor. All the while, it churns out the most ridiculous and scurrilous snippets of gossip, rumor, half-baked charges to poison the air and cast public doubts about the nominee, and by extension Obama.
Whether it succeeds or fails, it served its purpose namely to replant the seed that Obama's picks are tainted, incompetent, or political cronies. They added one more pejorative to their arsenal of slurs and slanders with Adegbile, and that's 'cop killer nominee.' The supreme tragedy as Obama noted in his righteous and biting denunciation of the Senate vote is that in tossing the appointment or nomination of a dedicated and imminently qualified public servant, the real loser is the public. In Adegbile, we would have gotten a sharp, energetic, and honest young man to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division; a Division which incidentally has been without a head thanks to the GOP's obstructionism for months on end. Someone, such as Adegbile, would have thoughtfully and aggressively enforced the nation's civil rights and voting rights which are exactly the very thing that the GOP has done everything possible to undermine. Now we can add a troop of timid and self-serving Democrats to that shameful list.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and on thehutchinsonreportnews.com