Senate fails to confirm Adegbile at Justice

Mar 7, 2014

The U.S. Senate on March 5 failed to approve President Obama’s nominee Debo Adegbile to become the Assistant Attorney General to head the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) was one 75 organizations that signed a letter to Senate leadership urging confirmation of Adegbile. NASW is also active in the Debo Nomination Coalition that advocated for Senate confirmation.

Fifty one senators needed to vote to confirm him. The final vote was 47 in favor and 53 against. More problematic was that seven Democratic Senators opposed his confirmation. The Democratic vote was unexpected.

The obvious question is why did the Senate doom Adegbile’s appointment to head the Civil Rights Office,  a department that is important to supporters of social justice and human rights issues? The answer lies in the concerted and vociferous pressure applied by the Fraternal Order of Police and other law enforcement associations.

Their opposition came from Adegbile’s role in overturning the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who was convicted in the 1981 killing of a white Philadelphia police officer (For more information on this issue read this Huffington Post  article).

What is bewildering about using the Abu-Jamal case as a reason to deny Adegbile’s appointment is that, as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he was called in to argue an appeal that had been filed several years before he became involved in the case. More importantly, as a lawyer, it is his duty to provide the most effective representation for all clients, especially when the death sentence is involved.

Paradoxically, when U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed to a lower court position in 2003 not one senator raised a concern about Roberts providing pro-bono representation to a  man who had been convicted of killing eight people and was awaiting execution in Florida. This certainly points to a double standard.

While the vote was a deep disappointment, the fight to get Adegbile confirmed is not over. His nomination can again be brought to the Senate floor for reconsideration. NASW will join its coalition partners to try to ensure that will happen.

For those who would like to voice their support for this important nomination and need more information, please contact Mel Wilson, manager of NASW’s Department of Social Justice and Human Rights at or Ellen Buchman, vice president of field operations at the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, at