The Nays Have It: Senate Rejects Obama Pick for Top Civil Rights Post

The president calls the failure to confirm Debo Adegbile a "travesty."

Posted: 03/05/2014 12:56 PM EST

The presence of Vice President Joe Biden was a clear indicator that the Senate vote to confirm Debe Adegbile to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division would not happen easily. The vice president was there to break a tie, if necessary, but in the end it wasn't even close.

By a vote 52 to 47, Senate Republicans and Democrats prevailed in their effort to block the nomination from moving forward to a final vote. Adegbile is the first of President Obama's nominees to be blocked since the Senate changed its rules last November to require a simple majority to end debate on a nomination instead of 60 votes.

Obama called the Senate's failure to confirm Adegbile "a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant." The president was referring to the role Adegbile played in the appeals process for the controversial Mumia Abu-Jamal, who in 1981 was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

"As a lawyer, Mr. Adegbile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him," the president said. "The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which took the case before Adegbile began working for the organization, expressed deep disappointment.

"Unfortunately Adegbile has been subjected to an unfair smear campaign," she said in a statement." As one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation, [he] has committed most of his life's work to advancing civil rights in America. There is no question that Adegbile is immensely qualified for the position."

Wade Henderson, who heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the Senate's action "shameful" and representative of a double-standard.

"During the course of their long careers, both John Roberts and Debo Adegbile each performed a vital constitutional service by representing an unpopular client on death row. Roberts is now chief justice of the Supreme Court, but opponents of the Adegbile nomination twisted reality and resorted to some of the dirtiest attacks I’ve seen in my professional career," Henderson said. "Instead of extolling his admirable record of service, as the American Bar Association did, extremists turned this family man into a 'cop-killer defender' and a buffoonish racialized caricature."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will bring up the nomination again.

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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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