J. Christian Adams

Right-Wing Smear Campaign Takes Down Civil Rights Nominee Debo Adegbile

The Senate today failed to invoke cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Every Senate Republican and seven Democrats voted to filibuster Adegbile’s nomination after a concerted right-wing smear campaign targeted the nominee. (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also changed his vote to no as a procedural tactic.)

From the very beginning, the Right’s problem with Adegbile was that he would be a strong leader of an office that they despise. As we wrote in January,

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 itsoriginal 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.

So, opponents of the Civil Rights Division’s work went looking for reasons to smear Obama’s nominee to head it. Luckily for them, former Bush administration official J. Christian Adams, who specializes in concocting race-baiting stories made for Fox News (he’s the one who invented the New Black Panther Party freakout) was on the case.

Adams and his allies focused on Adegbile’s work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he helped provide legal representation to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted murderer whose sentence of capital punishment had been based on jury instructions that violated the United States Constitution. The court agreed and Abu-Jamal was resentenced to life in prison. As Adam Serwer writes today, it is hardly unheard of for executive branch and judicial nominees to have histories of representing unsavory clients – Chief Justice John Roberts, for instance, had done pro bono work on behalf of a man who had murdered eight people.

But the attack on Adegbile stuck, as Fox News called him a “cop killer’s coddler,” the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer devoted several segments of his program to attacking him, the Wall Street Journal editorialized against him (also attacking him for his work defending the Voting Rights Act), and Senators Pat Toomey and Ted Cruz publicly spoke out against him. In a speech on the Senate Floor yesterday, Cruz said that Adegbile’s work at LDF was “fanning…flames of racial tension.”

So now, the Civil Rights Division – which works to combat problems like housing and employment discrimination, protect voting rights, and ensure the rights of people with disabilities – continues without someone to head it. Which, of course, was the Right's goal all along.

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