Myths And Facts About DOJ Civil Rights Nominee Debo Adegbile

Right-wing media have sunk to new lows in smears against President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, former NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) top official Debo Adegbile, a highly-qualified and widely praised civil rights litigator who has been senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Nomination Of Debo Adegbile Is Endorsed By The Nation's Leading Civil Rights Organizations

Leadership Conference: Adegbile Is “One Of The Preeminent Civil Rights Litigators Of His Generation.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the country's most well-known coalition of civil rights advocates and litigators, strongly endorsed Adegbile's nomination. From its letter on January 7, 2014:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the 75 undersigned organizations, we are writing to indicate our strongest possible support for the nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. Mr. Adegbile is a tireless advocate, a skilled litigator, and a well-respected member of the legal community who is extraordinarily qualified for and suited to this position.

Mr. Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights litigators of his generation. He is also a consensus builder. Mr. Adegbile has earned respect and admiration from a bipartisan set of colleagues, lawyers, and leaders, including former Solicitors General Paul Clement and Drew Days, because of his principled and measured approach to issues.

Throughout his career, Mr. Adegbile has distinguished himself as a highly effective and respected advocate who achieved successes both inside and outside the courtroom. The son of immigrants who worked his way from poverty to the top of the legal profession, Mr. Adegbile is a steadfast voice for equality and opportunity for all Americans. [Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 1/7/14]

Right-Wing Media Respond With Myths And Ignore The Facts About Debo Adegbile

MYTH: Adegbile Likes Cop Killers

MYTH: Adegbile Doesn't Understand The Voting Rights Act

MYTH: Adegbile Didn't Want A White Woman To Go To Law School

MYTH: Adegbile Was Rated Unqualified By The ABA

MYTH: Adegbile Likes Cop Killers

Fox News' Greg Gutfeld: Adegbile Is A “Cop Killer's Coddler” Comparable To Guantanamo Detainees. The Five co-host Gutfeld, along with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson, have based multiple segments off of fringe bloggers' accusations that the NAACP LDF's successful appellate challenge to an improper death sentence is reprehensible. From the January 9, 2014, edition of The Five:

GUTFELD: The Fraternal Order of Police slammed the White House for nominating a cop-killer's coddler to a top job at the Justice Department. Debo Adegbile is a volunteer supporter and defender of Mumia Abu-Jamal who murdered Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in cold blood 30 years ago. And so, you've got to wonder in a nation of sanctimonious attorneys, Obama picks this guy? What, none of the chaps he's releasing from Gitmo were free, or is he saving them for cabinet posts? And yet we're still supposed to believe that Reverend Wright's claims were all false, so once again America is punished for being deeply racist. How is this nomination not a hate crime against our nation's police? Maybe celebrity supporters of that same cop killer like Ed Asner and Mike Farrell can explain this to Officer Faulkner's widow or ask Harry Reid who gamed the Senate to ensure passage of horrid nominees like this one. This guy may be the first job Reid's created. But look, the outrage doesn't matter to Obama and neither does Mumia's guilt. This is about transferring power to the few, the radical, the race-baiting academics. Cop killing after all may be just a response to a racist society. Even the phrase “cop killer” is just too mean. Isn't it really just bigot control? But who cares? The media will focus on New Jersey traffic instead, and ignore this. Alas, Christie casts a big shadow, in every sense. [The Five, 1/9/14]

FACT: Criminal Defense Is A Respected Part Of American Law And LDF Successfully Overturned An Unconstitutional Death Sentence

American Bar Association: Adegbile Legal Representation Was “Consistent With The Finest Tradition” Of American Lawyering. The president of the American Bar Association (ABA), James R. Silkenat, wrote a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee unequivocally stating that Adegbile “should be commended, not condemned.” From the January 13, 2014, letter:

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to deliberate over the nomination of Debo Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, I write to address the criticism this nominee has received regarding the legal representation he provided to a death-sentenced prisoner. 

A fundamental tenet of our justice system and our Constitution is that anyone who faces loss of liberty has a right to legal counsel. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to uphold that principle and provide zealous representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government - even to those accused or convicted of terrible crimes. The American people understand this obligation, and the corollary principle stated in rule 1.2(b) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct that "[a] lawyer's representation of a client does not constitute an endorsement of the client's political, economic, social or moral views or activities."

I was alarmed to learn that there is some opposition to Mr. Adegbile's nomination based solely on his efforts to protect the fundamental rights of an unpopular client while working at the Legal Defense Fund. His work, like the work of ABA members who provide thousands of hours of pro bono legal services every year, is consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession and should be commended, not condemned. [American Bar Association, 1/13/14]

NAACP LDF: Adegbile Was Following In The Steps Of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, To Ensure Criminal Justice Is Administered “Without Regard To Race.” The legal arguments of the NAACP LDF on behalf of condemned prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal were not in regards to his innocence but rather to unconstitutional death sentencing jury instructions, efforts that were twice successful before the federal court of appeals. From the January 9, 2014, statement of Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP LDF:

Almost 25 years after Mr. Abu-Jamal's trial and conviction in state court, LDF chose to support Mr. Abu-Jamal's federal court jury selection challenges, and later to represent him. We did so for the same reason that we have represented people accused and convicted of crimes since Thurgood Marshall was LDF's first Director-Counsel - because LDF is committed to ensuring that the American criminal justice system is administered fairly and without regard to race, such that all individuals charged with or convicted of crimes are afforded the safeguards guaranteed by the constitution.  Given the persistent, arbitrary and uncontroverted role of race in the administration of the death penalty, this mandate is particularly imperative in racially charged capital cases. When racial discrimination or other constitutional defects enter any aspect of the criminal justice system, it imperils the integrity of that system for everyone.

In Mr. Abu-Jamal's case, after LDF became counsel-of-record, his death sentence was conclusively found to be unconstitutional because his sentencing jury had been improperly instructed.  Indeed, the federal court of appeals found in 2008, and again in 2011, that LDF's claim of constitutional error was correct. [NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 1/9/14]

The National Law Journal: “Lawyers Who Have Held Prominent Government Positions” Across The Political Spectrum Have Had “Similar Clients In The Past.” Highly-regarded members of the Supreme Court Bar have officially registered alarm at the smears against Adegbile regarding his criminal defense work, noting that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts also represented a death row inmate “convicted in the murder of eight people.” From The National Law Journal on January 28, 2014:

[P]rominent lawyers are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee not to penalize a top Justice Department nominee for having once helped with the appeal of a convicted murderer.

During confirmation hearings on Jan. 8, Debo Adegbile, nominated to head the department's Civil Rights division, came under criticism for work he and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund did on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted in the murder of a Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago.


[A letter to the committee by members of the Supreme Court Bar] pointed out that a wide range of lawyers who have held prominent government positions have had similar clients in the past. When he was a partner at Hogan Lovells, the letter noted, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. helped represent Florida death row inmate John Ferguson, convicted in the murder of eight people.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher's Miguel Estrada, Latham & Watkins' Gregory Garre, Seth Waxman of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, and current solicitor general Donald Verrilli Jr. have done the same. “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,” the letter said. “Thus, [the fund'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.” [The National Law Journal, January 28, 2014]

MYTH: Adegbile Doesn't Understand The Voting Rights Act

PJ Media: “Racialist” Adegbile Suffered “Devastating Loss” In His Voting Rights Act (VRA) Case. Despite the fact that at least one high-profile lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court in any given case won't prevail, the right-wing blog that kicked off the Adegbile smears thought the conservative majority's rejection of Adegbile's legal arguments in support of the VRA is relevant. From PJ Media on November 14, 2013:

Adegbile's background promises to bring even more racially radicalized policies to the Justice Department.

Adegbile's name was mentioned as a possible nominee to the federal bench.  Because of his advocacy for racialist policies, such a nomination would face serious confirmation difficulties.  But in Eric Holder's Justice Department, nakedly racialist policies are standard fare, and Adegbile will fit right in.


Incidentally, Adegbile lost both of the Voting Rights Act cases he argued in the Supreme Court.  Although he suffered only a partial defeat in NAMUDNO -- where the Court empowered the petitioner the right to seek a bailout that Adegbile and the NAACP insisted was unavailable to entities like NAMUDNO -- he ultimately experienced a devastating loss in Shelby County when the Court invalidated the coverage formula under Section 5 of the VRA as unconstitutional.

But in the Obama Justice Department, the law is not as important as the cause. And with Adegbile, the cause is racialist. [PJ Media, 11/14/13]

FACT: The Conservative Majority Ignored Precedent To Cut Out The Heart Of The Bipartisan Voting Rights Act

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens: The VRA “Should Have Been Upheld” As Adegbile Argued. In a scathing analysis of the recent VRA decision of Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Stevens agreed with the dissent that the conservative majority “err[ed] egregiously” by ignoring the power of Congress to protect voting rights. From The New York Review of Books on August 15, 2013:

In her eloquent thirty-seven-page dissent, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, described the extensive deliberations in Congress over the preclearance requirement, the precedents holding that the Court has a duty to respect Congress's decisions, and the reasons why the preclearance remedy should be preserved. Indeed, she captured the majority's principal error concisely and clearly when she explained that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Justice Ginsburg's conclusion sums up exactly why the VRA reauthorization should have been upheld:

The record supporting the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA is...extraordinary. It was described by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee as “one of the most extensive considerations of any piece of legislation that the United States Congress has dealt with in the 27½ years” he had served in the House.... After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was the judgment of Congress that “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.” ...That determination of the body empowered to enforce the Civil War Amendments “by appropriate legislation” merits this Court's utmost respect. In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress's decision. [The New York Review of Books, 8/15/13]

The Atlantic: The Conservative Majority Opinion Was Terrible “As A Matter of Fact, And Of Law.” Legal expert Andrew Cohen noted the shocking result in Shelby County was not only “wrong” but “one of the worst in the history of the institution.” From The Atlantic on June 25, 2013:

The Court's majority is wrong. Terribly wrong. The Voting Rights Act isn't outdated. Its vitality was amply demonstrated in the years before the 2006 renewal, and in the years since. What has become outdated is the patience of a certain political and legal constituency in this country that has decided for itself over the past few years that there now has been enough progress toward minority voting to justify the law's demise. To this constituency, it is enough that more blacks and Hispanics now vote or are elected to office. To them, Section 4's actual burdens on officials -- petty little bureaucratic burdens when compared to the burden of losing one's right to vote -- suddenly are burdens so unreasonable they cannot be constitutionally borne.

Today's decision is the legal sanctification of an ugly movement that has brought America a new generation of voter suppression laws. It is the culmination of an ideological dream of a young Reagan Administration official named John Roberts, who sought 30 years ago to block an earlier renewal of the law. It is the latest manifestation of America's unfortunate eagerness to declare itself the grand victor even when a fight is clearly not won. Indeed, as today's  setback demonstrates, the nation's fight for voting rights will never be over because the effort to undermine these rights is ceaseless. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was so strong that it took 48 years and this dubious ruling to bring it down. But down it has come.

For these reasons and many more, the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County is one of the worst in the history of the institution. As a matter of fact, and of law, it is indefensible. It will be viewed by future scholars on a par with the Court's odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America. And to those tens of millions of Americans whose voting rights were protected last year by Section 4, it is a direct slap in the face rendered by judges who today used the banner of “states rights” to undermine the most basic right any individual can have in a free society -- the right to be able to vote free from racial discrimination employed by public officials. [The Atlantic, 6/25/13]

MYTH: Adegbile Didn't Want A White Woman To Go To Law School

The Wall Street Journal: Adegbile Is Known As A “Radical Ideologue” For His Civil Rights Work. Right-wing media incessantly allege lawyers relying on decades-old civil rights precedent improperly discriminate against whites, such as the plaintiff who brought the latest high-profile attack on affirmative action. From The Wall Street Journal on January 8, 2014:

It's hard to find a lawyer who could do more damage to the Justice Department's civil-rights division than former chief Tom Perez--who wielded race as a political weapon, interfered with the Supreme Court's docket to protect his discrimination agenda from legal review, and snubbed a House subpoena before taking the job as Labor Secretary--until you consider the record of the man the president nominated to replace him, Debo Adegbile.


[Adegbile] believes American blacks still endure Jim Crow-era racism. Last year he argued before the Supreme Court to preserve sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act used by Justice to override voting laws in certain southern states. He lost. In a separate case contesting race-based college admissions policies, former Justice attorney J. Christian Adams notes Mr. Adegbile argued that (as Mr. Adams put it) “a white applicant was properly denied admission to the University of Texas Law School because she was white.”

No wonder the left is cheering the nomination. “He is just so incredibly suited for this position,” the Legal Defense Fund's Leslie M. Proll told the Washington Post earlier this month. Given how much the Obama administration has politicized law enforcement, she's right. [The Wall Street Journal, 1/8/14]

FACT: The LDF Was Defending Supreme Court Civil Rights Precedent, Not Blocking A White Plaintiff's Admission

LDF Amicus Brief: Race-Conscious Admissions Policies Help “All Races.” The legal challenge to affirmative action brought in Fisher v. University of Texas was not about admitting one white applicant but rather sought to dismantle the entire “diversity” principle, decades-old law that validates the individualized consideration of everyone's race as one factor among many in education applications processes. From the LDF Amicus Brief of August 13, 2012:

UT's race-conscious holistic admissions process affords the University enhanced flexibility to admit students of all races who will contribute to broad diversity on campus and in the classroom, even if they were not ranked at the very top of their high school class.


[A]s UT emphasizes, it is not just under-represented minorities who can benefit from consideration of race as one factor among many in UT's holistic review process. Without the ability to consider race in its holistic admissions process, UT could not decide, for instance, that a non-Top Ten Percent 'white student who has demonstrated substantial community involvement at a predominantly Hispanic high school may contribute a unique perspective.' Yet such individuals - along with African Americans and Latinos who are, for example, talented debaters or musicians - are precisely the type of students who can help the University promote its goals of increasing cross-racial understanding, breaking down racial stereotypes and, ultimately, creating an educational environment where students feel free to develop their individuality. [LDF Amicus Brief, 8/13/12]

Justice Anthony Kennedy: It Is Constitutionally Permissible “To Consider The Racial Makeup Of Schools.” In the Supreme Court's affirmative action case that preceded Fisher, Justice Kennedy explicitly reaffirmed that race-conscious admissions policies are permitted and do not constitute impermissible discrimination. From the controlling opinion of Justice Kennedy in the June 28, 2007, decision of Parents Involved:

[T]he opinion of THE CHIEF JUSTICE impl[ies] an all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when, in my view, it may be taken into account...The plurality's postulate that "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," is not sufficient to decide these cases...To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken.

The statement by Justice Harlan that "[o]ur Constitution is color-blind" was most certainly justified in the context of his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson... In the real world, it is regrettable to say, it cannot be a universal constitutional principle.

In the administration of public schools by the state and local authorities it is permissible to consider the racial makeup of schools and to adopt general policies to encourage a diverse student body, one aspect of which is its racial composition. [Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 6/28/07]

MYTH: Adegbile Was Rated Unqualified By The ABA

Fox News' Megyn Kelly: “I Have Not Confirmed It” But A Right-Wing Blogger Said Adegbile Was “Unqualified.” In a Kelly File interview with the Washington, D.C. director of the NAACP, Hilary Shelton, Kelly cited “some reports out there” claiming the American Bar Association thought Adegbile was unqualified, while admitting she hadn't verified the story. From the January 10, 2014, edition of The Kelly File:

KELLY: There are some reports out there, I have not independently confirmed these, that he was deemed unqualified for a position on the federal bench by the American Bar Association, and his -- so his nomination never went forward. Even the ABA found him unqualified.

SHELTON: I have never heard that before. Nor have we seen it as it has gone through the vetting process. So I think we may want to look a little bit deeper into that to see how accurate it is.

KELLY: Absolutely, and I don't want our viewers to take that as fact because as I say, that is just out there before reported. I have not confirmed it. Go ahead, sir.

SHELTON: No, thank you, I have known Mr. Adegbile for a very long time and I've watched his career grow. I've watched him as someone that has served the American people by making sure justice is served. Quite frankly, he is the best qualified candidate for the assistant attorney general for civil rights position that I have ever known. He is someone that has tried more cases before the Supreme Court very successfully. He has testified before the U.S. Senate and done extraordinary things. [The Kelly File, 1/10/14]

FACT: Debo Adegbile Was Not Rated By The American Bar Association

ABA Evaluation Committee: Adegbile's Name “Was Withdrawn” After GOP Filibuster. The Washington Post debunked the rumor that the bar association considered Adegbile unqualified by checking in with the lawyer in charge of evaluating Adegbile. From the December 31, 2013, edition of The Washington Post:

In 2011, Obama asked the American Bar Association to evaluate Adegbile for possible appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, normally a precursor to nomination. But the White House later withdrew his name.

Conservative bloggers say the bar association found Adegbile unqualified. But Florida lawyer Ben Hill, who was chairman of the bar association evaluation committee, said in an interview that Adegbile's name was withdrawn before he was rated by the group.

An administration official said Adegbile's name was withdrawn after Caitlin Halligan, a lawyer in the Manhattan district attorney's office with a moderate record, failed to win Senate approval for the D.C. Circuit, casting doubt on Adegbile's chances. [The Washington Post, 12/31/13]