As the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing today on the nomination of civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Republican senators are facing pressure from right-wing activists to sink his nomination.
Conservatives have not been fans of the civil rights division under the leadership of President Obama and Attorney General Holder, who installed now-Labor Secretary Tom Perez to restore the division to its original purpose after neglect under the Bush administration. In other words, President Obama has nominated civil rights advocates to the office and encouraged them to enforce civil rights measures….which is just too much for some conservative activists to bear.
Leading the charge against Adegbile and the division he’s been nominated to head is J. Christian Adams, a former Bush administration Justice Department official whose “claim to fame as a federal lawyer,” according to The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen , “seems to be his penchant for accusing black people of discriminating against whites.”
Since Holder took over the Justice Department, Adams has dedicated himself to stirring up racial panic over the civil rights division’s work. It was Adams who drove the conservative media freakout over the New Black Panther Party. He has also been an active voice in opposing the Holder Justice Department’s increased efforts to protect voting rights and testified before Congress against a meaningful restoration of the Voting Rights Act after its decimation at the hands of the Supreme Court.
Adams even wrote a book called Injustice: Exposing The Racial Agenda Of The Obama Justice Department, which dwells on the New Black Panther story and accuses the Obama DOJ of “insisting on kids’ rights to attend school dressed as transvestites” and a “fixation on racial grievance” which the book claims “threaten[ed] the integrity of the 2012 elections.” In the book, Adams accuses Holder and his civil rights team of seeking “payback” against whites and of supporting efforts to “switch the positions of historic oppressor and the historically oppressed.”
So, naturally, Adams has taken the lead in opposing Adegbile’s nomination to head the civil rights division, since from his record it seems that Adegbile would actually use the position to enforce civil rights. Adegbile, a child of immigrants, had astint as a child actor on Sesame Street before putting himself through school and ultimately landing in a top position at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
It is Adegbiles’ work at the LDF work that Adams and his allies have jumped on. In a post on Pajamas Media in November, Adams attacked the LDF as “an organization that has pushed a radical racial agenda including attacks on election integrity measures, opposition to criminal background checks for hiring, and racial hiring quotas for state and local governments” -- in other words, support for voting rights, “ban the box” measures , and some affirmative action measures.
Adams also attacked Adegbile for what, in the eyes of civil rights supporters, might be seen as the pinnacle of his career: the two voting rights cases he argued in front of the Supreme Court, including his defense of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 last year. Adams describes the VRA enforcement measure that the Supreme Court struck down as a means to put states that go after voting rights “ under federal control.” Adams also objects to the fact that the LDF filed an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Finally, Adams and his fellow conservative bloggers have fixated on the LDF’s role in converting Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence to life in prison – assistance that focused not on Abu-Jamal’s guilt or innocence, but on the misleading sentencing instructions provided to the jury in his original trial, which an appellate court, including two Reagan-appointed judges, found to be unconstitutional.
Adams has succeeded in recruiting a raft of conservative activists to his anti-Adegbile cause, including The National Review’s John Fund, who also attacked the nominee for his defense of the Voting Rights Act; former FEC commissioner and voter suppression advocate Hans Von Spakovsky, who told NPR that Obama had failed to “nominate someone who believes in race-neutral enforcement of our discrimination laws”; The Daily Caller, which accused Adegbile of “a radical record on racial issues”; and FrontPage Magazine, which called the nomination evidence of the president’s “ anti-American radicalism.”
The key phrase in Adams’ attack on Adegbile is his characterization of the Obama Justice Department as pushing “nakedly racialist policies” – “racialism” being Adams’ preferred code for the acknowledgement that race and racism still impact American life, an acknowledgment that is critical to the civil rights divisions’ work.
It’s clear that what right-wing activists object to is not so much Adegbile himself, but the fact that he would ably lead a division that is aggressively working to protect voting rights and fight housing and employment discrimination, a division that acknowledges that discrimination is still a reality in the United States.