A day after civil rights organizations asked right-wing media to curb their misinformation and racially charged rhetoric, Fox News rejoined other conservative outlets in the smear campaign against Debo Adegbile, senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and President Obama's highly-regarded pick to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
In a January 31 report posted to FoxNews.com, legal correspondent Shannon Bream contributed to a post that cited mysterious “critics” of Adegbile's supposed “outside the mainstream” approach to the law. The report did not mention that the criminal defense work he did to overturn an unconstitutional death sentence on appeal has been commended by the American Bar Association, members of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). From FoxNews.com:
Adegbile has been described by critics as “radical,” “dangerous” and “outside the mainstream.”
Obama nominated Adegbile to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
However, he is now facing increased criticism for his role in getting convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence overturned during his time as a practicing attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1981 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Maureen Faulkner says she's “outraged” by Obama's decision to nominate Adegbile to the post.
Maureen Faulkner isn't the only one casting doubt on the nomination.
The Fraternal Order of Police recently sent a letter to Obama opposing Adgebile's possible appointment.
“This nomination can be interpreted in only one way: it is a thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement officers,” Chuck Canterbury, president of the police group, wrote in a letter addressed to Obama.
Bream's post is just one of many debunked attacks on Adegbile, which are so distorted that the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights -- a coalition of the nation's 200 leading civil rights organizations -- called on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets to begin “a reasoned and substantive conversation” on Adegbile's nomination. That request was ignored by Bream who recycled the misleading accusation that Adegbile's nomination represents an affront to police officers, quoting the president of the Fraternal Order of Police's opinion that Adegbile's nomination is “a thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement.”
Joining the ABA, NOBLE has explicitly rejected Bream's repetition of the myth that "Obama's choice represents a slap in every policeman's face."
In a January 24 letter, this respected law enforcement organization explained that Adegbile's work on this case was a demonstration of his “duty to honor our Constitution” and praised his “bravery to ensure the proper representation of even an individual who has committed the most reprehensible of offenses.” The ABA added Adegbile's work should be "commended, not condemned." Nevertheless, conservative outlets continue to take offense that when Adegbile was a top lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he successfully challenged an unconstitutional death penalty for a convicted murderer who remains imprisoned for life.
Fox's obliviousness to the basic constitutional principles at the core of American criminal law are ignorant of the fact that many of the country's best attorneys have similarly defended the condemned and gone on to high-profile government positions. Among these famous litigators and defenders of the unpopular are former solicitor generals and Republican nominees, including conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. From the official letter on behalf of Adegbile's nomination by members of the Supreme Court Bar:
Our system works best when both the prosecution and defense are represented by highly competent legal representation. It is well-established that even the most unpopular defendant requires such representation, particularly when he or she is facing capital punishment. Before Chief Justice Roberts was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, he aided lawyers at his firm in their representation of Florida condemned inmate John Ferguson. Ferguson, with two co-defendants, had been convicted of killing eight persons in 1978. During his 2005 confirmation hearing for Chief Justice, he explained that while lawyers need not take on cases or clients they believe morally questionable, “lawyers don't stand in the shoes of their clients and [ ] good lawyers can give advice and argue any side of a case.”
Answering the call for competent legal representation, numerous highly regarded attorneys have provided their services to condemned prisoners in recent time, and it has never been thought that such representation is disqualifying of appointment to high government position...In each of these instances, these attorneys devoted hundreds of hours, on a pro bono basis, to ensure that important legal issues were ably advocated and fully understood by the courts.
Few voices would assert any of these talented and dedicated advocates should be turned away from federal appointment solely because they chose - in the best tradition of the legal profession - to provide their services to an indigent citizen in cases where the stakes could not have been higher.
Thus, LDF's advocacy on behalf of Mr. Abu-Jamal does not disqualify Mr. Adegbile from leading the Civil Rights Division. To conclude otherwise would send the wrong message to any lawyer who is affiliated, or might be asked to become involved, with a difficult, unpopular case for the purpose of enforcing and preserving important constitutional principles.
In our view, Mr. Adegbile represents the best of our profession.