Blocked wrongly

Defendants have the right to a defense, and defense attorneys are doing their job when they carry out that defense—which does not mean that they support the defendants or their actions. It is a professional and constitutional matter.

However, that is not how Debo Adegbile’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is being looked at.

The Republican caucus and seven Democratic senators opposed his nomination. They blocked Adegbile basically because, as director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he was one of the defense attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for killing a police officer.

This has led to strong criticism from conservatives, ranging from calling Adegbile a “cop-killer advocate” to saying that his nomination means the politicization of the Justice Department.

First, no one called U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts a “mass murderer advocate” when at one time he defended John Errol Ferguson, who was accused of committing eight murders. What was understood about Roberts’ professional duties should be the same way for Adegbile.

Second, that position in the Justice Department has always been politicized. During Republican administrations, people with a narrow vision of civil rights have been named to the position; during Democratic ones, that vision has been broader.

What bothers GOP senators the most are Adegbile’s positions. For example, he is more restrictive when it comes to gun control and defending voters’ rights, given the attempts of several Republican-led state legislatures to impose new voting requirements in order to discourage mostly Democratic-leaning minorities.

The issue of Abu-Jamal angers police unions, already upset because his death sentence was reduced to life in prison based on irregularities during his trial. Therefore, they campaigned against Adegbile’s nomination. That has intimidated some, especially Democratic senators who are running for re-election.

It is time to do the right thing and be consistent. Having defended Abu-Jamal should not block Adegbile’s nomination. President Obama has the right to request his administration’s political officials to think like him and for them to be confirmed by the Senate.