Prior to the Senate’s failure to invoke cloture March 5 of the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, ABA President James R. Silkenat expressed alarm over the harsh criticism the nominee had received regarding the legal representation he provided to a death-sentenced prisoner.
The 47-52 vote failing to approve the motion to end debate and proceed to a vote on Adegbile’s nomination reflected the opposition to the nomination of Senate Republicans and seven Democrats. An eighth Democratic “no” vote came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who changed his vote to preserve the option of bringing the nomination back up for a vote at a later date.
Many opponents based opposition to Adegbile’s nomination on his work on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The Legal Defense Fund became involved in Abu-Jamal’s appeal of his death sentence in 2006 when Adegbile was director of litigation.
“A fundamental tenet of our justice system and our Constitution is that anyone who faces loss of liberty has a right to legal counsel. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to uphold that principle and provide zealous representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government – even to those accused or convicted of terrible crimes,.” Silkenat wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to its 10-8 vote approving the nomination in February.
Silkenat cited the corollary principle in Rule 1.2(b) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that “a lawyer’s representation of a client does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social, or moral views of activities.”
“Adegbile’s work, like the work of ABA members who provide thousands of hours of pro bono legal services every year, is consistent with the finest traditions of this country’s legal profession and should be commended, not condemned,” he concluded.
Adegbile, called one of the nation’s leading civil rights lawyers by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), was supported by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 83 other civil rights organizations as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and numerous current and former Justice Department officials, prosecutors and law enforcement officials.