- - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

President Obama calls the Senate’s rejection of his nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division a “travesty.” It’s a puzzle that he nominated Debo P. Adegbile in the first place. Here was a nomination doomed from the beginning.

Mr. Adegbile is best known for saving convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal from death row, as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which defends killers who are, by definition, bad men.

They’re so bad that a lawyer who undertakes their defense pays a price for it. Seven Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to reject Mr. Adegbile, who went down 52-47 on Tuesday.

Abu Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner at a traffic stop. Witnesses identified Abu Jamal as the shooter; he was caught at the scene with the murder weapon.

He was convicted and sentenced to death, and lengthy appeals enabled Abu Jamal to proclaim his innocence and become a pop-culture icon for leftists, not only here but abroad.

Mr. Obama complains now that Mr. Adegbile “was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant.” The president is correct that a lawyer is often identified with his client, unfair as that may be.

But Mr. Obama knows that Abu Jamal was not just any client, but a killer whose guilt was never in doubt. The president should have been aware of the politics in his appointment.

In fact, the administration knew this vote would be close, so Vice President Joe Biden was kept close by to cast a tiebreaking vote if one were needed. The nomination was a vote too far for Sen. Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who won the Senate seat vacated by Mr. Biden.

“At a time when the Civil Rights Division urgently needs better relations with the law enforcement community,” Mr. Coons said after the vote. “I was troubled by the idea of voting for an assistant attorney general for civil rights who would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job.”

Mr. Coons, Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana face tough election campaigns in November, which made their votes of rejection sure things.

A vote for this nominee sets any red-state Democrat up for what one Senate Democratic aide calls “a 30-second ad that writes itself.” One such is Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, a self-proclaimed “radical centrist.”

With his vote for Mr. Adegbile on Wednesday, Mr. Warner showed once more that he’s more radical than centrist.

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