A U.S. Senate committee last week approved President Obama’s controversial nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, but a bipartisan group of elected officials isn’t done fighting confirmation of the former Mumia Abu-Jamal defense attorney.
Sen. Pat Toomey, U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and Philadelphia’s first assistant district attorney, Edward McCann, joined local police union leader John McNesby on Monday in condemning nominee Debo Adegbile for his role in getting Abu-Jamal’s death sentence overturned.
Abu-Jamal, aka Wesley Cook, murdered on-duty Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner during a Center City traffic stop on Dec. 9, 1981. A jury convicted Abu-Jamal of the slaying and sentenced him to death in 1982. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, under Adegbile’s direction, joined Abu-Jamal’s case in 2009 and helped him get his death sentence overturned in 2012, when a panel of appellate judges ruled that the trial judge had not instructed jurors properly. Abu-Jamal is now serving life in prison without parole.
During Monday’s news conference at FOP Lodge 5 in the Northeast, Toomey said that Adegbile should not be appointed to the high-level Justice Department post because he, along with NAACP attorneys under his supervision, “promoted the myth that Abu-Jamal was some kind of heroic political prisoner who was framed, instead of the cowardly unrepentant murderer that he was and is.”
President Obama nominated Adegbile, a New York City native, in November. The Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday approved the nomination, 10-8, with all votes cast along party lines.
Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, does not sit on the committee. Now, the nomination awaits a vote of the full Senate, where Democrats hold an eight-vote edge over Republicans. There are two independent senators. A vote has not been scheduled but could be called at any time, according to Toomey.
Toomey and Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Bucks and Montgomery counties, hope to sway Democrats to vote against the nomination. The U.S. House has no formal role in the confirmation process, but Fitzpatrick has attempted to intervene on behalf of Faulkner’s widow, Maureen.
“We have a second chance here,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have to turn just a handful of votes in the Senate to turn back this nomination. Danny Faulkner was not given a second chance in December of 1981. But we have a second chance.”
The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), conducted public hearings on the nomination, but Maureen Faulkner did not get an opportunity to testify. On the day of the committee vote, Fitzpatrick handed a letter from the officer’s widow to committee members. She was 24 at the time of the murder.
“For three decades, my family and I endured appeal after appeal — each rooted in lies, distortions and allegations of civil rights violations,” Maureen Faulkner wrote. “And year after year, judge after judge, the conviction and sentence were unanimously upheld. Then, thirty years after the fact, my family, society and I were denied justice when three federal district court judges who have found error in every capital case that has come before them, overturned the death sentence. … In reality, Mr. Adegbile was a willing and enthusiastic accomplice in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s bid to cheat us of the justice we waited so many years for.” ••