Emily Guendelsberger Emily is senior staff writer at Philadelphia City Paper. She enjoys writing about feminism, opera, television, arts ecosystems, music theory, people with weird jobs and pretty much everything involving money. You can also find her writing at the A.V. Club, the Guardian and other fine publications.
Debo Adegbile was nominated to run the Department of Justice's civil rights unit, and yesterday he appears to have gotten past the last thing standing in the way of his approval by the Senate: Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Adegbile, while working for the NAACP, was involved with Abu-Jamal's successful appeal of his death sentence for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. And, bizarrely, some of the characters involved with that tragedy are turning up to try to block Adegbile's appointment. Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, even asked to come testify at his hearing before the Senate, though according to Fox News she was told that that wasn't a thing that happened by representatives of the chairman.
Philly DA Seth Williams, who seemed super pissed in 2011 when he had to announce that Abu-Jamal would not be getting the death sentence, released a statement According to the Inquirer:
Williams called Adegbile's credentials "impressive," but said, "His decision to champion the cause of an extremist cop-killer . . . sends a message of contempt to police officers who risk their lives every day to maintain the peace."
Williams did this in conjunction with Sen. Pat Toomey, who was actively worked against Adegbile's nomination in the Senate:
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is arguing that Adegbile's work at the NAACP, where he helped mount a defense of alleged police-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, disqualifies him for the post.
"The Justice Department's website explains, the Civil Rights Division 'fulfills a critical mission in upholding the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals,'" wrote Toomey in a letter to his Senate colleagues. "This requires the head of the Civil Rights Division to have an absolute commitment to truth and justice. There are many highly qualified Americans who can carry out this critical mission. Mr. Adegbile's record creates serious doubts that he is one of them."
It seems strange to imply that lawyers should defend only likeable and sympathetic clients. Everyone's entitled to defense, innocent and guilty alike. Along with Williams and Toomey, a lot of conservative publications are echoing the message that defending a cop-killer should stain a lawyer's record for all time — here's some sample phrasings:
- "Adegbile voluntarily took up Abu-Jamal's case." —Town Hall
- "The Fraternal Order of Police slammed the White House for nominating a cop-killer's coddler to a top job at the Justice Department. Debo Adegbile is a volunteer supporter and defender of Mumia Abu-Jamal who murdered Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in cold blood 30 years ago." —Fox News
- "Among his other accomplishments, Debo Adegbile went out of his way to play a role in defending cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, an international cause célèbre on the left." —National Review
- "Obama's DOJ civil rights nominee represented cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal" —The Daily Caller, which after that headline spends, like, half of the article describing the events of the actual murder.
All together, now: Defending a client does not mean the approving of a client's actions, nor does it somehow equate a lawyer with his client's crime. And what is the ideal situation here for these people who are using Abu-Jamal to object to Adegbile's nomination — that lawyers should refuse to defend highly unsympathetic people on principle? That lawyers for cop-killers should do a crappy job of defending their clients? That the Constitution should be tweaked so that people we don't like get fewer rights? An editorial in support of Adegbile in the L.A. Times yesterday put it well:
It's offensive to suggest that Adegbile should be disqualified because he provided representation to a client, even one convicted of a shocking crime. In a letter to the Judiciary Committee, James Silkenat, the president of the American Bar Assn., wrote that Adegbile's representation of an unpopular client was "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession and should be commended, not condemned."
Adegbile made it past the committee yesterday on a party-line vote, 10-8; now that the filibuster rules have changed, it looks like he'll be approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
This is not important at all, but a Jeopardy-interview fact that keeps getting mentioned in pieces on Adegbile is that he was a child actor on Sesame Street for nine years in the '70s as "Debo." (The L.A. Times actually put the headline "Civil rights nominee known for Sesame Street, liberal legal causes" on a story about his nomination in December) Pics or it didn't happen is what we always say, so we hunted down some videos of our probably new head of the government's civil-rights legal team discussing letters with Grover and Kermit.
We do not think Adegbile's in this next video of Ray Charles singing the ABCs, but when we started watching it at low resolution we were hoping so bad that he was the admirably accurate clapper in the yellow shirt, as he mentioned that a highlight of his Sesame Street career was getting to meet Charles. When the camera goes for a close-up of Excellent Clapper, though, it appears that she is a little girl. Even so, we are including this because it is hilarious how good at clapping she is, and how terrible at clapping all the rest of the kids are!
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