Mar 06, 2014 A wakeup call is needed for those who attacked Debo Adegbile for defending Mumia Abu Jamal’s Constitutional rights
Barack Obama and Debo Adegbile share some major parallels in their histories. They were both born to white mothers and African-born fathers who were absent from their lives as they grew up. They started out without much wealth, with Adegbile’s mother struggling all the more financially in his early years, and with him pulling himself up by his bootstraps with a combination of academic success, scholarship funding to quality educational institutions, and, I infer, pay from appearing in Sesame Street for many years.
Obama and Adegbile both attended highly-ranked law schools, and continued developing resumes that large corporate law firms love in deciding whom to interview and hire as newer lawyers. In fact, Adegbile worked as an associate attorney at a large corporate law firm that doubtlessly picks its new lawyers after looking particularly closely at the law school attended, grades received, and experience on the law review or other scholarly journal, which factors can miss great lawyers who do not look as good as that on paper, but, then again, most of the lawyers doing such hiring have similar credentials, making this all the more self perpetuating, and if an associate attorney messes up on his or her work, the law firm at least can tell clients that the associate’s resume pointed to a high potential for success.
While I am not highly fond of Obama as president, including his not being much different from George W. Bush in shredding civil liberties in the name of going after terrorism, Obama truly is an inspiration for transcending his feeling dogged by racial issues to the point of saying in his autobiography that this contributed to his snorting cocaine, to apparently long ago shedding that as any hurdle to dealing with people and his life, and for catapulting from humble beginnings without his birth father around, to reach personal and professional heights that appeared at first bluh as if they were little hobbled by such challenges.
I know little about Adegbile beyond his resume. I know that Obama wanted to place him on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but withdrew that nomination, possibly influenced by failing to get Senate passage for an even more moderate-seeming nominee to that court. I know that I feel that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to which Adegbile was rejected to head this week, includes work on voting rights and criminal prosecution matters, and that such criminal prosecutions can sometimes step on Double Jeopardy rights using the separate sovereigns doctrine.
It appears that Adegbile lost the Senate confirmation process on just about one issue, or just one issue, which was his work on behalf of Mumia Abu Jamal (championed by my friend and teacher Jun Yasuda) — an African-American man convicted of murdering a white police officer in 1981 in a case that still has spirited debate (with his supporters heavily addressing racial issues) about whether Mumia was in fact guilty — for the limited purposes of filing a friend of the court brief alleging racial discrimination in jury selection at Mumia’s trial, and later advocating against prosecutorial efforts to return him to death row (good, including because I oppose the death penalty).
Setting such a benchmark for denying a judicial nomination or government office post to someone helps assure that all the more judges and government officials are going to be establishment members who take no risks to their careers in the actions they take, even when career-risking actions often are necessary by all people to uphold the Constitution, civil liberties, and what is right. Moreover, the hue and cry against Adegbile’s defense of Mumia Abu Jamal — as a lawyer, and not condoning Mumia’s convicted action of murder, whether or not it was an erroneous conviction — is another way of ignoring how unjust the criminal justice system is to criminal defendants, and a repetition of the misplaced contempt that so many people feel about the role of the criminal defense lawyer, until they or a loved one needs one (whether accused erroneously or not), and ignoring that by protecting the Constitutional rights of all people accused and convicted in the criminal justice system, the Constitutional rights and civil liberties of all are better protected.
If Democratic senators at risk for their seats in the next election are upset that Obama’s nomination of Adegbile forced them into a Hobson’s choice between voting in favor of him in order to do what is right or to satisfy a big part of their voting bloc, versus voting against him had they had the hindsight that his nomination would not have passed anyway, these senators must remember that they are in office not to get themselves re-elected.
For the Republican senators and party leaders who smeared Adegbile and the senators who voted to confirm his nomination, over his representation of Mumia, let them suffer at the polls the next time for such demagoguery.
As to Maureen Faulkner whose husband Daniel Mumia was convicted of murdering, she is entitled to rail against Adegbile’s nomination, but is not entitled to having that Senate confirmation process be about her, nor do police — who are here to serve the public, and not the other way around.
President Obama is prevented by the Constitution from running again for president, which can continue to embolden him to decline to nominate judges and executive officials who will merely have easy Senate confirmation proceedings versus those who will do justice in their positions. I encourage him to continue doing so.