Friday, March 07, 2014

As The Song Is Entitled...

In 1981 Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was murdered by Mumia Abu-Jamal. The following year, he was convicted, then sentenced to death by Judge Alfred Sabo. The conviction and the sentence were affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1989.and in 1995 Sabo denied the defendant's motion for post-conviction relief.

Requests for post-conviction relief were rejected also in 1996 and 1997. The defense appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which in 1999 declined to review the appeal.

In 2001, U.S. District Judge William Yohn upheld the murder conviction but ordered a new sentencing hearing based on what he believed were flawed instructions to the jury.  Seven years later, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Yohn's ruling.  In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a request to consider overturning Yohn's ruling, despite an amicus curiae brief filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, of which Adgbile was then associate director-counsel/director of litigation.

In 2010, the Court ordered the 3rd Circuit to review its order for a new sentencing hearing in light of its ruling on Smith v. Spisak pertaining to jury instructions.  In April, 2011, the 3rd Circuit Court affirmed its ruling granting a new defense hearing

Debo Adegbile, who has been rejected by the Senate after being nominated by President Obama to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, became associate director-counsel director of litigation of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 2011.  In April, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a new death-sentence hearing and five months later Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, after conferring with the police officer's widow, decided to let the matter drop, relegating Abu-Jamal to life in prison.

But according to The New York Times

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the organization did not become involved in the Abu-Jamal case until it filed a friend of the court brief on the removal of African-Americans from the jury in 2006. Mr. Adegbile’s name did not appear on a brief until 2008, and the fund did not become directly involved in the Abu-Jamal defense until 2011. Even then, Mr. Adegbile was not on the legal team.

Whatever. Most of the Republicans, and some of the Democrats, were no more concerned with Adegbile's work on behalf of a convicted murderer than they were with the work of the individual who helped defend (pro bono) John Ferguson, who in two separate incidents murdered not one, but eight, people. That individual is now known as Chief Justice John Roberts. Perhaps it was only one John defending another.

Philadelphia D.A. Williams opposed the nomination, as did the National Fraternal Order of Police, which no doubt played a role in the "nay" vote of Democrats Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and of Chris Coons, who represents the adjacent state of Delaware, home to many Philadelphia police officers.  But emotions in the Abu-Jamal case never ran nearly as high in the states- Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Montana- from which hail the other five Democrats constituting the Shameful Seven. And there is not a snowball's chance in Miami that the criminal case significantly motivated many Republicans, who voted in lockstep against the nomination.  Instead, as Adam Serwer, brilliantly explains

... Adegbile’s failed nomination wasn’t really just about Abu-Jamal, but a larger conservative attack on the civil rights division – the part of the Justice Department dedicated to enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws. Convinced that anti-black racism is a thing of the past and that federal intervention to secure minority rights does more harm than good, conservatives have waged a years long campaign to dominate, dismantle or discredit the civil rights division and the laws it is designed to enforce.

Adegbile is a celebrated Supreme Court litigator who has devoted his life to protecting laws conservatives want to see repealed, overturned or interpreted so narrowly as to be toothless, and that was reason enough for Republicans to oppose him. But absent the spectre of a revival of Willie Horton-style race baiting politics, it would not have been sufficient to bring skittish Democrats along for the ride. 

Unlike with Republicans, the Shameful Seven did not oppose Adegbile because he has twice in oral arguments defended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court has allowed the GOP to gut. But the Justice Department can- with more difficulty-  enforce the VRA with Section 2. The decision as to which jurisdictions to sue under that provision would, as Chris Hayes explains here, be made by the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, which the nominee would have headed.Hayes observes "Those laws" (in five southern states) restricting voting, that's what Republicans appear to be trying to protect" as the latest iteration of  "an attack on the civil rights division going back into the Clinton administration."

No doubt, as NAACP Director Ben Jealous explains in the same video, some of them owe their presence in the United States Senate to civil rights movement and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP.  Their assistance to Republicans whose goal is to restrict voting to their kind of people therefore renders them evocative of the following 1972 song from The Main Ingredient:

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