Two days after a shocking defeat, liberals are still grousing about the Senate spiking the nomination of former NAACP Legal Fund Director Debo Adegbile to be head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. What really burns them up is not just that Republicans successfully filibustered one of President Obama’s choices for a government post but that six Democrats joined with them. But rather than take responsibility for putting forward a controversial figure who was sure to provoke bitter opposition from both sides of the aisle, liberals are reverting to form by blaming their defeat on conservative demagoguery and racism.
This is more than disingenuous. Adegbile lost for one reason and one reason only and its name is Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical who gunned down Philadelphia Policeman Daniel Faulkner in a cold-blooded murder in 1981. Under the leadership of Adegbile, the NAACP Legal Fund worked on Abu-Jamal’s appeal. The White House and Adegbile’s defenders in the press say blaming the lawyer for his client’s crime is both unfair and an assault on our judicial system. But contrary to this spin, Adegbile and the NAACP were not a latter day version of patriot John Adams defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre. Far from merely writing briefs on Constitutional issues involving Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Adegbile’s lawyers were part of the propaganda campaign aimed at besmirching the victim and the Philadelphia Police Department and portraying a killer who was literally caught red-handed with the murder weapon as a heroic martyr. Under these circumstances, it’s little wonder that some Democrats wanted no part of the nomination, especially those like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Jr. and Delaware’s Chris Coons voted against cloture for the nomination, whose constituents know the facts of the case and despicable work of Abu-Jamal’s cheerleaders.
This debacle can be partly explained by the White House’s cluelessness in dealing with Congress. Reportedly, Majority Leader Harry Reid told the administration he didn’t have the votes to push Adegbile through but the president wouldn’t budge and the result was what the New York Times called “the highest-profile defeat of a nominee on the Senate floor in the Obama presidency.” But while those falsely alleging that this was the work of a conservative conspiracy against civil rights are blowing smoke, there is more to this story than just a case of Obama overreaching in an attempt to pack his administration with like-minded leftists. The reason why the president and Holder wanted Adegbile so badly is because a believer in the Mumia myth fits in perfectly with their vision for using the Civil Rights Division as a political weapon to push their left-wing agenda.
While Adegbile’s involvement with the Mumia travesty made him a political liability, that sort of radical take on the justice system is what recommended him to the administration. It must be understood that in the last five years, the Civil Rights Division is not so much about enforcing the laws against discrimination but employing the power of the federal government to pursue cases that bolstered the Democrats attempt to portray the GOP as racist. The division’s lawyers have been Obama’s legal shock troops seeking to invalidate voter ID laws on bogus charges of racism as well as a raft of other initiatives all designed to promote the idea that America was boiling over with racist crime and conspiracy at a time when both the president and the attorney general were African-American. But while continually portraying the country as a hotbed of racist oppression, this same division refused to prosecute a case against the New Black Panther Party for intimidating voters in Philadelphia. Just as the president thinks he can pick and choose what laws to enforce, so, too, does the DOJ use the same unconstitutional principle to undermine the rule of law.
Far from a distraction, the Mumia Abu-Jamal connection was actually quite germane to what is the animating spirit of federal civil rights lawyers under Democratic administrations. Instead of judicious applications of the statutes, what Obama wants for his Civil Rights Division are radicals like Adegbile. His defeat is not, as Adam Serwer wrote yesterday on MSNBC.com, part of a Republican war on civil rights but a rare defeat for liberals in their efforts to use the power of the Justice Department to gain victories in court they could never win at the ballot box. As such, the end of the Adegbile nomination was a rare victory for the rule of law against a lawless Obama administration.