The White House ripped the Senate for failing to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, calling it a "travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant."
Several Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to block Adegbile, who while with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was an attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal who was sentenced to death for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
In a statement, the White House said Adegbile’s "unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now."
And it noted that Adegbile’s personal story – "rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules.
"As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules," the White House said. "And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him. The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus called the defeat an "embarrassment" for Obama and Democrats "who thought it was a good idea to nominate a convicted cop-killer’s most ardent defender to head a DOJ Department and failed.
"Vulnerable Democrats running in 2014 just voted to confirm a radical nominee whose positions on civil rights, religious liberty, voting rights and the second amendment are far outside the mainstream," Priebus said, noting that eight Democrats voted to confirm.
They were: Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Warner (D-VA), Al Franken (D-MN) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the RNC said.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund called for Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring up the nomination again, saying Adegbile had been subjected to an "unfair smear campaign."
Sherrilyn Ifill, the director of the fund, said its involvement in Abu-Jamal's case "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, no matter how controversial."
She noted that "many public servants, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have donated pro bono time to the representation of death-sentenced prisoners in controversial cases."
And she said that a federal appeals court ultimately agreed with the fund and twice ruled twice that the instructions given to Abu-Jamal's sentencing jury were incorrect and violated the Constitution.
By LESLEY CLARK
McClatchy Washington Bureau