U.S. Senate vote against civil rights attorney would make Putin proud


While the United States issues repeated condemnations this week against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive actions in the Ukraine, it would have been fitting if he gave the U.S. a taste of its own medicine by firing back at the Senate for disavowing one of the fundamental aspects of our U.S. Constitution in the vote to deny Debo Adegbile an opportunity to serve the nation.

American politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — love to chastise nations such as Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and others for denying its citizens the general rights that our democracy affords our people. Yet time after time, we see examples of where American elected officials show that we are just as ruthless and shameful as those who we oppose.

This week, the United States Senate absolutely disavowed and thumbed its nose to our Founding Fathers and one of the most important parts the U.S. Constitution — the Sixth Amendment — when it voted down Adegbile as the next assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice.

What angered 52 members of the U.S. Senate, including seven Democrats? The fact that as head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Adegbile supported the appeal of Mumia Abu Jamal, a Philadelphia man convicted of killing a city police officer, when he was appealing his death row sentence.

Was Adegbile Jamal’s attorney? No. Did he ever stand in front of a court and argue on behalf of Jamal? Nope. Did he finance Jamal’s legal fight? Not at all. What was Adegbile’s crime, according to 52 United States Senators? He dared follow the U.S. Constitution, which, according to the Sixth Amendment, guarantees any defendant the right to legal counsel.

The Sixth Amendment reads: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

It is embedded in the U.S. Constitution that anyone accused of a crime — anyone — has a right to counsel for his (and her) defense.

But because Jamal was convicted of killing a police officer, these Senators decided that this was a higher crime than any other, and Adegbile cannot be allowed to serve his country by virtue of following the creed to which all lawyers must agree.

In fact, these same U.S. Senators, by virtue of the vote against Adegbile, themselves violated the very oath they agreed to, which included them agreeing to “support and defend the Constitution.”

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin didn’t sit idly by and allow the action to go by with a vigorous response.

“If you are a young white person, and you go to work for a law firm … and that law firm assigns you to a pro-bono case to defend someone who killed eight people in cold blood … my advice from what happened today is you should do that,” said Harkin.

“Because if you do that, who knows, you might wind up to be the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

However, if you are a young black person, and you go to work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and you’re asked to sign an appeal for someone convicted of murder, what the message said today is, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’ Because, you know what, if you do that, in keeping with your legal obligations and your profession, you will be denied by the U.S. Senate from being an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Adegbile and top Democrats knew they didn’t have the votes, but the impeccably qualified attorney wanted the vote to be on the record.

And those who stand out for extra shame include the seven Democrats who voted “no.” They are: Sens. Bob Casey (Penn.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and John Walsh (Montana).

Not only did they oppose the president on this, but they also set aside what is right, and it was all done just by opposing Adegbile for a pathetic reason: political expediency.

Congrats, U.S. Senate, you are the newest heroes of dictators like Putin and others who don’t care about democracy or the rule of law.

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Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.”