Yesterday, the Senate carried out a travesty of justice when they rejected by a 47-52 vote President Obama's nominee to head the Civil Rights division in the Justice Department, Debo Adegbile. What sinked the nomination this time wasn't the usual Republican opposition but the 'No' votes of seven Democratic senators, many of whom were on record declaring Adegbile a highly qualified nominee. There's no reason for him not to be. He lead the NAACP's legal team, currently serves as the Senate Judiciary Committee's lead counsel, and is an excellent public servant.
Conservatives and police officers organizations went after Adegbile for being the director of NAACP's legal arm when the organization appealed the death sentence in the infamous case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. NAACP's appeal, by showing a biased jury selection process that kept out African Americans, was able to eventually commute Abu-Jamal's death sentence to life in prison.
Thirty-two years later, Adegbile faced what his client once did: an overwhelmingly white jury sitting in judgment of a black man. Only this time, the jury was the United States Senate and Adegbile's crime was representing the best interest of his client, a duty every state's bar association charges attorneys with. That a black man had the temerity to challenge a death sentence by a jury whose selection process he was able to prove to the court kept out African Americans.
The President was understandably furious at the Senate's travesty.
The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant.
Sometimes, I am awed by this president's ability to use restraint. Mr. President, you know, and I know, and everyone who cares about colorblind justice knows that Adegbile's nomination was not defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant. His nomination was doomed by his legal representation of a black defendant accused and convicted of murdering a white police officer. His nomination was defeated by his legal representation in which he dared to stand up in court and argue for a black defendant's right to due process when it comes to jury selection. His nomination was turned down by his legal representation of a black client whose death sentence got commuted after he succeeded in proving racial bias in jury selection.
And that - daring to stand up for the Constitutional due process rights of a black defendant who is prosecuted for shooting a white man, let alone a white policeman - is still sure to torpedo your career in the United States Senate, even if the Senate is supposedly controlled by Democrats, and even if the job you are nominated for involves doing exactly what Adegbile did in the Abu Jamal case - protecting the due process rights of minorities.
As I mentioned previously, many of the Democratic Senators who voted against Adegbile's nomination made it clear that they weren't doing so based on any concern about his qualifications or even his ideology. Here's Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
“I embrace the proposition that an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, who voted no and who comes from a state where many Philadelphia police officers live.
And here is Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey:
“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime,” he said in a statement on Friday.
And yet, both senators and others made excuses about the emotions of police officers and their families because of Mr. Adegbile's closeness to the case.
For a moment, let's let go of the cherished American principle that defense attorneys aren't responsible for crimes their clients are accused or convicted of. Just what excuse is there for not correcting an violation of the Constitutional rights of a defendant? Precisely what is the excuse for conservatives, police officers' organizations, other supposed defenders of the law-and-order society and the Democratic Senators who are oh-so sympathetic to value the sentiments of vengeance above the Constitution of the Untied States? What is the excuse for the sentiment that a "cop-killer" belongs six feet underground regardless of Constitutional rights of the accused?
There is an excuse. And that excuse is palpable, raw, barely veiled racism. It is that racism that conservatives exploited, and it is that racism that seven Democratic Senators succumbed to. In fact, let me take that back. I have no evidence to say that those Democrats - 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.) - merely succumbed to that raw, skin-crawling racism rather than subscribed to it.
And if they merely succumbed to it rather than subscribed to it, that isn't much better. In fact, it's worse. It is after all silence of good people that lets evil advance. And this week, seven Democrats in the Senate have helped advance the evil of racism in America.