02.06.14

Nominees To Top DOJ Posts Approved By Senate Judiciary Committee

. . . Three Judicial Nominees Also Approved During Business Meeting

WASHINGTON (Thursday, February 6, 2014) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Debo Adegbile to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, an office that has been without a confirmed leader since July.

“Debo is careful, he listens, and he understands the importance of building consensus. Anyone who personally knows him understands that he is a man of the utmost integrity,” Leahy said during Thursday’s markup.

Adegbile has served as Acting President and Director Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), as well as Associate Director-Counsel and Director of Litigation. He argued two voting rights cases before the Supreme Court and also litigated in private practice. His nomination was approved by the Committee by a vote of 10-8.

The Committee also approved on Thursday the nomination of John Carlin to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division at the Justice Department. Three judicial nominations to district court seats in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Illinois were also approved during Thursday’s executive business meeting.  All five nominees approved on Thursday appeared before the Judiciary Committee in January.

Results and a webcast of Thursday’s executive business meeting can be found online

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Executive Business Meeting
February 6, 2014

Today, we have five nominations on the agenda – three judicial and two executive.  All were listed on the agenda last week, and are ready to be reported out today.

Regarding the legislation, after seven weeks of deliberation, last week we were able to find a compromise and report the Smarter Sentencing Act to the Senate.  I understand that Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse continue to work on another compromise and they will need more time before we take up that bill.  Senator Grassley has asked to hold over S. 149, the Klobuchar-Sessions STOP Identity Theft Act of 2013.

One of the nominees on today’s agenda, Debo Adegbile currently serves as Senior Counsel on this Committee.  He is nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.  He will bring a wealth of experience and good judgment to this important office.

Debo is careful, he listens, and he understands the importance of building consensus.  Anyone who personally knows him understands that he is a man of the utmost integrity.  He does not deserve the disparagement I have seen in some media outlets. 

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement under President George W. Bush has said the following about Debo:  “I have litigated both with and against Debo and have heard him argue in the Supreme Court.  I have always found him to be a formidable advocate of the highest intellect, skills and integrity.”  I believe that no one who has worked with Debo would disagree.

Prior to serving on the Judiciary Committee, Debo followed in the footsteps of the great Thurgood Marshall, working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). During his time at LDF, Debo argued two significant cases on voting rights before the United States Supreme Court.  Debo previously litigated in private practice at the esteemed law firm of Paul, Weiss for seven years.

A son of immigrants from Ireland and Nigeria, Debo grew up in poverty amidst periods of homelessness.  His story is truly that of the American Dream.

Since his nomination, criticism of his nomination has centered on one case – the decision of LDF to participate in the appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.  Much of the criticism appears to hinge on the factually inaccurate assertion that it was Debo who made the decision for LDF to take on the case.  This is simply not accurate. 

The nominee has testified under oath, and stated for the record in his written responses to questions posed by Senators, that the decision to provide appellate representation to Abu-Jamal was made by the previous president of LDF.  These responses have been provided to all Senators on Committee and are publicly available on the Committee’s website.

Even if it had been his decision, however, it is not something that should disqualify him from serving the public.  Our legal system is an adversary system, predicated upon legal advocacy for both sides. Without this, our justice system would be a sham. As Chief Justice Roberts testified at his confirmation hearing,

“[I]t’s a tradition of the American Bar that goes back before the founding of the country that lawyers are not identified with the positions of their clients.  The most famous example probably was John Adams, who represented the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre.  He did that for a reason, because he wanted to show that the Revolution in which he was involved was not about overturning the rule of law, it was about vindicating the rule of law.

…that you don’t identify the lawyer with the particular views of the client, or the views that the lawyer advances on behalf of the client, is critical to the fair administration of justice.”

Whether it is John Adams or John Roberts, who himself once volunteered to represent a notorious death row inmate, the principle that all sides deserve competent and effective counsel is at the bedrock of our constitutional system. 

I want to thank the Ranking Member, who expressed the same sentiment after Debo’s hearing in early January when responding to a reporter’s question.  He said:  “You always have to take into consideration that everybody under our constitution is entitled to a defense.”  I could not agree more with him on this sentiment.

Finally, I will also note that we have individuals who support and oppose the nominee in attendance today.  Many have submitted written testimony and they have all been made part of the Record. 

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