Obama Chooses Voting Rights/Affirmative Action Advocate for Top Civil Rights Post

By Susan Jones | November 15, 2013 | 8:51 AM EST

President Obama has nominated Debo Adegbile to be the nation's top civil rights attorney. (Photo from NAACP Legal Defense Foundation website)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama has nominated Debo Adegbile to be the next assistant attorney general for civil rights, the post formerly held by Thomas Perez, who now serves as Labor Secretary.

Adegbile, who recently became senior counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, spent the past ten years at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he variously served as acting president and director-counsel, director of litigation, and special counsel.

While at LDF, Adegbile twice defended the Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court (Shelby County v. Holder in 2013; and Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder in 2009). He also represented evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in the first post-Katrina federal voting rights lawsuit.

Aside from voting rights and affirmative action, Adegbile's views on college -- and college costs -- seem to dovetail with President Obama's recently announced plan to set up a college scorecard that would allow the government to steer federal financial aid to colleges that meet certain government criteria. Tuition would be one of the considerations, as would the percentage of students who require financial aid.

In a 2012 panel discussion on race-based college admissions, Adegbile said colleges represent a "visible pathway to opportunity and leadership," but for many people, "there needs to be a way to get there."

"I think one important factor is the cost of college, which is part of a broader conversation," Adegbile said.

"For some people it's too hard to get there from here. And if you're thinking about coming from a humble circumstance, even if there are loans or other things available, it may be beyond your experience or your family's experience to take what is, in effect, a mortgage on your brain, that seems to be at numbers beyond anything that your family has experienced."

Adegbile also argued that the nation should not step away from race-based college admissions, which he called an "important opportunity to expand racial diversity on colleges, which has lagged."

“I am very pleased that President Obama has nominated Debo Adegbile to be the next Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights," said Sherrilyn Ifill, the current head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "Our country needs someone like Debo with significant experience in voting rights to protect the deeply held American value that each person has the right to a voice in our democracy. Debo has worked tirelessly to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equality for all Americans.”

Ryan Haygood, the director of LDF's Political Participation Group, worked with Adegbile for nearly a decade and call him an example of what can happen when the "doors of opportunity" are opened.

"As a child, Debo and his single mother fought grinding poverty and homelessness in New York City," Haygood said. "Debo later financed his college and law school education with scholarships, employment and loans, and ultimately twice argued in the United States Supreme Court.  These experiences have influenced his commitment to protect the rights of the most vulnerable among us, and our nation will benefit from his service,” Haygood added.

The Washington Post reported in October 2011 that President Obama had asked the American Bar Association to vet Adegbile for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which the Post described as a "launchpad" for U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Assuming he is confirmed, Adegbile's new boss will be Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department is currently suing North Carolina and Texas over their voter ID laws.