Obama appointee hampered by work on Mumia Abu-Jamal case

Sen. Robert Casey to meet with police group opposed to nomination

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The battle over President Obama’s nominee for the top civil-rights job at the Justice Department is shifting to Sen. Robert P. Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, a friend of the president who faces fierce home-state opposition to the nominee for taking on the cause of a notorious cop-killer.

Mr. Casey is expected to meet this week with members of the Fraternal Order of Police, a group vehemently opposed to the nomination of Debo Adegbile to become the next assistant attorney general for civil rights. Mr. Adegbile was chief of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 2009 when that group worked to prevent a death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, where Mr. Adegbile has been serving as senior counsel, approved his nomination last week on a straight party-line vote of 10-8. With Republicans no longer able to filibuster nominees, they’d need to pick up six Democrats to stop the nomination on the floor, and Mr. Casey is one of their most likely targets.

Casey spokesman John Rizzo said Thursday the senator hasn’t made up his mind whether to support the nomination.

“The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty haunts his family and the people of Philadelphia to this day,” Mr. Rizzo said in a statement. “Senator Casey believes that every person nominated by the president of the United States for a high level position such as assistant attorney general for civil rights should be given fair and thoughtful consideration as each senator discharges the responsibility of ‘advise and consent.’ Therefore, Senator Casey will meet both with members of the Fraternal Order of Police as well as Mr. Adegbile himself before making a final decision.”

Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, faces fierce opposition in his home state as he decides whether to support Debo Adegbile's nomination to become  the next assistant attorney general for civil rights. (Associated Press)

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Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, faces fierce opposition in his home state ... more >

Mr. Casey met last week with the nominee, whom Mr. Obama is counting on to lead the administration’s fight to defend and expand voting rights. The senator is caught between the expectations of the president, his friend and sometime basketball teammate; and influential people in his home state who oppose Mr. Adegbile’s nomination, including the Democratic district attorney of Philadelphia, the city’s police union and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican.

Another person hoping Mr. Casey will vote “no” is his colleague, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, who took to the Senate floor Wednesday with a poster-sized photograph of Officer Faulkner to rally opposition against the nomination.

Mr. Toomey said Mr. Adegbile and his staff at the Legal Defense Fund “spread misinformation” about Abu-Jamal’s trial and “blocked justice for Danny Faulkner and Danny Faulkner’s family.”

“These LDF lawyers promoted the myth that Mumia Abu-Jamal was somehow a heroic political prisoner, that he was framed,” Mr. Toomey said. “In fact he was a coward and an unrepentant murderer. I do not believe that Mr. Adegbile’s nomination is consistent with the goal of promoting truth and justice in America.”

Democrats are equally fervent in support of Mr. Adegbile, a former child star on “Sesame Street,” saying he is a superb lawyer and highly qualified for the post.

Debo is careful, he listens, and he understands the importance of building consensus,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “Anyone who knows him understands that he is a man of the utmost integrity.”

Mr. Adegbile told the committee that his work on Abu-Jamal’s behalf “was about the legal process.”

“It’s important, I think, to understand that in no way does that legal representation, zealously as an advocate, cast any aspersion or look past the grievous loss of Sergeant Faulkner,” he testified.

Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, is a former member of the Black Panthers. From his prison cell, his rise as an international cause celebre among liberals sometimes obscures the facts of Officer Faulkner’s murder, which are not in dispute.

In the early morning hours of Dec. 9, 1981, the officer pulled over a car in Center City Philadelphia. The driver, who was Abu-Jamal’s brother, resisted arrest. Abu-Jamal, who happened to be nearby on the street, approached Officer Faulkner and shot him in the back.

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