Sunday, December 28, 2014

Editorial Extra: Adegbile nomination isn't about Abu-Jamal

The blatant demagoguery of politicians exploiting the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner to score points they hope will serve them well in their next election is sickening. Among them include Sen. Pat Toomey, who has joined those vigorously opposing the nomination of civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Editorial Extra: Adegbile nomination isn't about Abu-Jamal

Debo Adegbile testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Getty Images
Debo Adegbile testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Getty Images

The blatant demagoguery of politicians exploiting the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner to score points they hope will serve them well in their next election is sickening. Among them include Sen. Pat Toomey, who has joined those vigorously opposing the nomination of civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

A better candidate for the position could not be found, but Toomey and others say Adegbile should be disqualified because he was the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s director of litigation when that organization advocated on behalf of Faulkner’s killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, during appeals of his conviction.

Now the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is no fly-by-night organization. It is held in high esteem in this nation for its historic work in ending segregation with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which was argued by Defense Fund lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who later became America’s first black Supreme Court justice. Over the years, the Defense Fund has added to its mission the pursuit of justice in criminal cases in which racial discrimination is alleged to have been a factor.

Sometimes it is right, sometimes it is wrong. But its goal is commendable.

To argue that Adegbile, one of the country’s foremost legal scholars, especially when it comes to civil rights law, should be disqualified from seeking the Justice post because he participated in Abu-Jamal’s appeals, is an affront to what it means to live in America, a country that allows every convict to exhaustively appeal a verdict, even when all the prior evidence appears to have assured his guilt.

The family of Officer Faulkner should be treated with great respect. He did not deserve to die at the hands of a murderer. But the appointment of Adegbile is not about what happened to the policeman. And for politicians who know better to cause further grief to that family by reviving a tragedy solely to smear Adegbile is atrocious.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 2009 decided it should join Abu-Jamal’s appeals. That doesn’t mean Adegbile has no respect for slain police officers, it means he worked for an organization that believes in leaving no stone unturned in seeking justice for all.

Unfortunately, Sen. Bob Casey announced Friday that because of “open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia,” he also would not vote for Adegbile’s appointment. Frankly, that noble sentiment is not what his vote should be based on.

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The Inquirer Editorial Board's Say What? opinion blog showcases the work of the editors and writers who produce the newspaper's daily and Sunday opinion pages.

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