HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A civil-rights lawyer who worked on behalf of convicted Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal moved closer to a top Justice Department appointment Thursday despite strong opposition from Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Gov. Tom Corbett.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Debo Adegbile as assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s civil-right division.
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who claimed his conviction for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia policeman was the product of a racist justice system, spent nearly 30 years on death row before prosecutors agreed to reduce his sentence to life imprisonment in 2011.
Toomey said Adegbile directed a team of lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who “spread misinformation, promoted division among the American people and blocked justice for the family of Officer Daniel Faulkner.”
“The lawyers Mr. Adegbile supervised promoted the myth that Abu-Jamal was a heroic, political prisoner who was framed because of his race, instead of the cowardly unrepentant killer that he is,” the Republican senator said.
Corbett, a former state attorney general, said Adegbile should be rejected because of his “track record of radical positions in the legal arena.”
Adegbile “pushed the boundaries of appropriate advocacy in supporting the cause of a convicted murderer,” the governor said. “This nomination is an insult to the family and memory” of the slain officer.
Former Gov. Tom Ridge, who joined fellow Republican Corbett in issuing a statement about the case, urged the committee to conduct “a thoughtful and comprehensive review” of Adegbile’s ties to Abu-Jamal before approving the nomination.
The nomination now moves to the full Senate for final action.
Leslie Proll, director of the defense fund’s Washington office, said on the group’s website that the committee action moved the nomination “one step closer to the confirmation of an exceptionally talented leader for the civil rights division.”
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., planned to meet with Adegbile on Thursday and with FOP officials next week before making a final decision on the nomination, said his spokeswoman, April Mellody.
The National Fraternal Order of Police and U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., have previously registered strong opposition to the nomination.