Top law enforcement organization opposes civil rights nominee

Debo Adegbile testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — One of the nation’s largest law-enforcement organizations has voiced “vehement opposition” to the nomination of Debo Adegbile to become the Department of Justice’s top voting rights official, telling the White House and Congress that his work on behalf of a convicted cop killer makes him unfit to serve in the government post.

In a confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Adegbile defended his efforts on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose death sentence for the 1981 slaying of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was reduced to life in prison with no parole after Adegbile and others took on his case.

Chuck Canterbury, national president of the 330,000-member Fraternal Order of Police, wrote a letter to President Obama-- copied to the Senate committee -- urging Adegbile be rejected for the post of running the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.


Canterbury said he was writing “to express our extreme disappointment, displeasure and vehement opposition” to the nomination, calling Abu-Jamal a “thug” and “our country’s most notorious cop-killer.” He said the choice of Adegbile represents a “thumb in the eye of our nation’s law enforcement officers.”

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Adegbile, then working with the Legal Defense Fund of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, successfully argued that Abu-Jamal’s jury was not properly instructed during the trial and that it was selected along racial lines.

Adegbile acknowledged that such cases are “harrowing,” but he added, “Our commitment in the Constitution is to follow our procedural rules even in those hardest cases, perhaps especially in those hardest cases, so that all of our rights can be vindicated.”

At the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the panel, urged the committee to give “their thoughtful consideration” about the matter before the Democratic-controlled Senate approves the choice.

Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), signaled that he supports the appointment of Adegbile, who serves under Leahy as the committee’s senior attorney.

“He’s done exceptional work that has provided me with prudent counsel on many, many issues,” Leahy said.

A committee vote is expected soon.

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