On a straight party-line vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved civil rights lawyer Debo Adegbile's nomination to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Adegbile, a longtime voting-rights specialist for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, had drawn opposition, in particular from Philadelphia officials, because of his representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop-killer there.
The Fraternal Order of Police called the nomination "a thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement officers." Other law enforcement groups, the police officer's widow and, most recently, Philadelphia Dist. Atty. Seth Williams opposed the nomination because of Adegbile's association with Abu-Jamal, who became a cause celebre for some liberal activists.
This "was a cause premised on the notion that this country's most notorious cop killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, was a victim," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said Thursday before voting against Adegbile.
"At bottom, that is why the law enforcement community is so staunchly opposed to the nomination," said Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee.
But the committee's chairman, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), said it was not Adegbile's decision to have the civil rights organization defend Abu-Jamal, and that, in any case, everyone is entitled to a lawyer.
"The principle that all sides deserve competent and effective counsel is at the bedrock of our constitutional system," Leahy said.
The 10-8 vote approving Adegbile is an indication that he will be approved on the Senate floor unless Democrats start to abandon the nomination. Under new Senate rules, Republicans alone cannot stop final approval with a filibuster.