Rev. Al Sharpton: Senate’s Rejection of Civil Rights Nominee ‘a Bad Precedent’

By Melanie Arter | March 6, 2014 | 10:41 AM EST

Rev. Al Sharpton (AP Photo)

( – Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” said Wednesday that the Senate’s rejection of Debo Adegbile, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the nation’s chief civil rights attorney sets “a bad precedent.”

“This is a bad precedent. It is bad voting, and those Republicans and Democrats, we need to remember they did this,” Sharpton said in response to the 44 Republicans and seven Democrats who sunk Adegbile’s nomination.

While working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Adegbile represented convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, arguing before the Supreme Court that Abu-Jamal’s conviction should be overturned because of discrimination in jury selection. Jamal is serving life in prison without parole.

“Adegbile was voted down today because of his work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. That’s the legendary civil rights firm founded by Thurgood Marshall. It’s the group that brought us the Brown vs. Board of Education case ending segregation in schools, but today critics pounced on the group’s defense of Mumia Abu Jamal, a man convicted of murdering a police officer back in 1982,” Sharpton said.

“Abu Jamal has always claimed his innocence, but senators voting no today declared the president’s nominee guilty by association, even though he was merely giving this defendant his constitutional right to a fair defense,” Sharpton said. “How can you hold a lawyer responsible for the alleged crimes of his client? It would have a chilling effect on courts all over the country and undercut every Americans’ right to a fair trial.

“What does it say about the judges, who for all of these years voted to give Jamal a new trial or voted another hearing, who were more directly involved than this man, who was just a part of the Legal Defense Fund that was there to make sure this man had a fair trial when there were so many questions that were still unresolved?” he asked.

In a statement on the National Action Network’s website, Sharpton, president of the group, called the Senate’s failure to confirm Adegbile “a smack in the face of all Americans” and “a betrayal to those of us that see civil rights legal work as a credible and patriotic duty of those that practice law in this country.”

“This vote, not only denies Americans a qualified civil rights chief in Justice Department, it also says now that if you work for a civil rights legal organization and engage in cases deemed controversial that you are disqualified from high level public service,” he said, adding that it “marginalizes, if not demonizes civil rights lawyering in the country.”

“The vote of Democrats on this is a betrayal that should not go unanswered,” Sharpton pledged.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a lawyer, was one of those Democrats. According to the Associated Press, he said he voted no, because Adegbile “would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job.”

The National Fraternal Order of Police urged senators to oppose Adegbile’s nomination.