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U.S. Senate Uses Abu-Jamal to 'Tar' Obama Nominee

By       Message Linn Washington     Permalink
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Members of the U.S. Senate, who now loudly castigate Russia for violating "the rule of law' in the Ukraine, trashed that fundamental legal precept during a vote to reject the man President Obama nominated to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

The Senate that rejected the nomination of Debo Adegbile, followed a venomous, falsehood-filled campaign against Adegbile launched by the National Fraternal Order of Police and exploited by conservative opponents of Obama.

The flashpoint Adegbile opponents used to frame their opposition to him was this highly qualified lawyer's remote involvement in appeals filed on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the prison journalist who was convicted for the 1981 slaying of a Philadelphia policeman. Abu-Jamal's contentious conviction has been condemned by entities as diverse as Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela and the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus.  

Adegbile worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an organization that officially entered the Abu-Jamal case in January 2011, years after federal district and appellate courts declared Abu-Jamal's controversial death sentence unlawful. That federal court action, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, led to Abu-Jamal being re-sentenced to life in prison much to the chagrin of police unions in Philadelphia and beyond who wanted the former Black Panther Party member executed. Adegbile, a voting rights law expert for the LDF, was not the lead (or backup) LDF lawyer on the Abu-Jamal case.

Additionally, the legal issue that resulted in the voiding of Abu-Jamal's death sentence -- errors by the trial judge during a death penalty hearing -- had been apart of Abu-Jamal's appeals prior to Adegbile joining the LDF in 2001. The LDF joined in the appeal, working on the claim of fair trial rights violations by the prosecutor and trial judge during jury selection at Abu-Jamal's contentious 1982 trial. Abu-Jamal's lead attorney, law professor Judith Ritter, handled the trial judge error aspect before the LDF's involvement in the federal appeal.

U.S. Senators opposing Adegbile's nomination, including Pennsylvania's two senators -- Tea Party Republican Pat Toomey and professed liberal Democrat Bob Casey -- embraced the National FOP's flawed posture that a "notorious cop-killer" does not deserve legal representation. Under "rule of law' directives in America, lawyers are ethically and professionally bound to provide representation to all defendants, including persons charged with murder. Parsing legal protections -- like excluding "cop killers' -- contradicts "rule of law' protections in the federal and state constitutions.

The Abu-Jamal case is rife with repeated instances of violations of fundamental legal rights"violations ignored by state and federal courts.

Although Senator Toomey acknowledged "there is absolutely no dispute that an accused person deserves" competent defense during trial and appeals he still declared, contradictorily, "that is not what this is about" -- contending it is proper to deny legal protections to Abu-Jamal.

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LDF President Sherrilyn Ifill, when expressing her disappointment about Adegbile's rejection by the Senate, cited the "rule of law' that was blithely dismissed by Toomey and 51 other senators, including Delaware Democrat Chris Coon, a graduate of the Yale Law School.

The LDF's involvement in the Abu-Jamal case, Ifill noted in a press release, "reflects its institutional commitment to ensuring that the criminal justice system is administered fairly and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution for all Americans."

Ifill also noted that, "Unfortunately, Adegbile has been subjected to an unfair smear campaign."

A January 6, 2014 letter to President Obama opposing Adegbile, from the National FOP, evidenced smear. That letter stated Abu-Jamal's "just sentence-death-was undone by your nominee." However, a federal judge, in his December 2001 ruling, set aside Abu-Jamal's death sentence"years before the LDF entered the Abu-Jamal case.

That FOP letter contained another criticism of Adegbile that exposed it's core opposition to Adegbile.

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The FOP is outraged because the USJD's Civil Rights Division has initiated police brutality investigations in a number of cities across America. That FOP's letter decried the Civil Rights Division's "aggressive and punitive approach towards local law enforcement agencies." The FOP duplicitously proclaimed that Adegbile would "certainly exacerbate" divisions between law enforcement and minority communities -- the very communities routinely brutalized by police...abuse that is ignored by most U.S. Senators.

Police abuse remains a rampant problem in Philadelphia where a civil rights organization recently requested a federal investigation. While Senators Casey and Toomey loudly demand sanctions against Russia for its law breaking, these two lawmakers remain silent about police abuse in Philadelphia, refusing to comment on their position on that requested for probe of Philadelphia police.

Interestingly, a critical piece of evidence used to convict Abu-Jamal arose during an investigation into his complaint about police beating him during and after his arrest.

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Linn Washington is a weekly columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and This Can't Be Happening. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and failings of the news media. He teaches multi-media urban (more...)

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