Recently, Republican U.S. senators and seven Democrats, including Pennsylvania’s own Sen. Bob Casey, chose to block a vote on the confirmation of Debo Adegbile, who is eminently qualified, to run the all-important Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. This was driven in part by the Republicans’ ongoing, blanket efforts to obstruct every nominee of President Barack Obama. But it also represents a dangerous interpretation of the constitutional principles on which our nation was founded, which is why we can’t let it stand.
The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides for the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions. It doesn’t say that counsel is provided only for those who are innocent, or who we like, or who we agree with; it says in all criminal prosecutions. When Mr. Adegbile worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), the LDF was involved in the representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal in appealing his death sentence for killing a police officer. That death sentence was later found to be unconstitutional based on improper jury instructions, as the LDF had argued — a finding which was subsequently upheld, even by conservative judges who had been nominated by President Ronald Reagan.
For doing his job, Mr. Adegbile was condemned, even labeled by some of his opponents as a “cop-killer coddler.” We should celebrate Mr. Adegbile’s correct understanding of his obligation under the Constitution and see him for what he is — an excellent choice to run the Civil Rights Division. I have worked at the federal public defender’s office for the last six years and have seen up close that the Constitution prevails when attorneys do their job. We do not want to give courts carte blanche to have Americans executed without adhering to constitutional requirements.
What kind of world would we live in if we simply tossed the Bill of Rights out the window when we don’t like a particular criminal defendant? Sen. Casey needs to answer this question.