Senate Blocks Nomination of Adegbile to Civil Rights Post

The Senate blocked the nomination (47-52) on Wednesday of Debo P. Adegbile to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, becoming the first nominee not to get cloture since the Senate changed its filibuster rules in November.

“This filibuster shows a hypocritical double standard. During the course of their long careers, both John Roberts and Debo Adegbile each performed a vital constitutional service by representing an unpopular client on death row,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Roberts is now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but opponents of the Adegbile nomination twisted reality and resorted to some of the dirtiest attacks I’ve seen in my professional career. Instead of extolling his admirable record of service, as the American Bar Association did, extremists turned this family man into a ‘cop-killer defender’ and a buffoonish racialized caricature.”

The racialized portrayal of Adegbile was most notable in January when the Washington Times published a racially tinged caricature of Adegbile, a cartoon that was reminiscent of the racist iconography of late 19th century America. Many stories also focused on one of Adegbile’s former clients – instead of his remarkable qualifications – and mainstream and right-wing media have played a large part in allowing this rhetoric to go unchecked.

President Obama initially nominated Adegbile in November and re-nominated him in January after the winter recess. His nomination was broadly supported by the civil rights community, including The Leadership Conference, who cited in a letter his extensive professional experience. “He has litigated cases across civil rights subject areas, from voting rights to fair housing to employment discrimination to equal educational opportunity. He has practiced law at all levels, from the trial court to the Supreme Court, and has appeared in courts throughout the country. He twice defended the Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act, which President Ronald Reagan called ‘the crown jewel of American liberties,’ was unanimously reauthorized by the U.S. Senate in 2006.”

Despite these exceptional qualifications, his nomination was blocked.

“Today’s filibuster should concern every person who cares about our justice system. Every person deserves adequate legal representation. Our system won’t work if talented attorneys refuse to represent unpopular clients. And eminently qualified public servants may think twice before accepting a nomination for federal office,” Henderson said. “Today indeed is a shameful day in our democracy. We urge Majority Leader Reid to call a vote on this nomination once again.”