Dem sees racial bias in defeat of Obama pick

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Wednesday's rejection of a nominee for the Justice Department revealed a racial "double standard."

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Harkin said the Republican opposition to Debo Adegbile, President Obama's choice to lead Justice's Civil Rights division, was hypocritical, given their support for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who had defended convicted criminals before joining the bench.

“Here is the message we sent today: if you’re a young white person and you go to work for a law firm, you’re a lawyer sworn into the bar … and a law firm assigns you to defend a person who killed eight people in cold blood … you might wind up to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

"However, if you are a young black person and you go to work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and they assign you to appeal a case of someone who committed a heinous murder … the message sent today is don’t do it … if you keep your legal obligations with your profession you will be denied the opportunity to be an assistant Attorney General.

“Shame on this Senate,” Harkin said. “We have a terrible double standard.”

The nomination of Adegbile, who is black, was rejected in a 47-52 vote. Seven Democrats broke ranks to oppose his nomination.

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Republicans argued Adegbile was “unfit to serve” because of his legal work in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1981 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Adegbile was the director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) when it worked to commute Abu-Jamal’s death sentence. Faulkner’s widow, the Fraternal Order of Police and Republicans argued this should disqualify him from the Justice job, while supporters warned a rejection would set a dangerous precedent of punishing lawyers for doing their jobs.

Obama called the vote against Adegbile a "travesty," and accused lawmakers of succumbing to "wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant."

"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," Obama said.

Harkin said Adegbile's work on the Abu-Jamal case was irrelevant to his nomination.

“The Supreme Court Justice defended someone who committed mass murder,” Harkin said. “Did we here one peep from the [Republican] side? No … and rightfully so. It should never have been an issue.”