The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Support the Confirmation of Debo P. Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice

Advocacy Letter - 01/29/14

Source: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Recipient: U.S. Senate

Dear Senator:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, we are writing to strongly support the nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. Mr. Adegbile is a skilled litigator and a well-respected member of the bar who is extraordinarily qualified for and suited to this position. We urge you to support his confirmation when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers his nomination tomorrow.

Mr. Adegbile’s professional experiences are varied and his accomplishments are myriad. He worked as a litigator for Paul Weiss, a large corporate law firm, where he handled a variety of cases for corporate, governmental, individual, and not-for-profit clients. In addition, Mr. Adegbile has served for a decade in various leadership positions at the nation’s first civil rights law firm, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., where he oversaw cases in both the trial and appellate courts, while managing the legal staff. Adegbile has argued before the Supreme Court twice. He currently serves as Senior Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr Adegbile’s legal experience is extensive. At Paul Weiss, he represented a New York State Comptroller in cases involving employment-related First Amendment claims; a member of Congress in a constitutional challenge to the drawing of his congressional district; various corporations in cases involving real estate developer interests; complex international transactions; and antitrust and patent claims. During his years at LDF, Mr. Adegbile was involved in a wide range of complex civil and criminal litigation where he acquired substantial experience in appellate litigation, including notable experience before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2010, Mr. Adegbile supervised the LDF team that litigated Lewis v. City of Chicago, an employment discrimination action brought on behalf of a class of African-American firefighter applicants. Along with co-counsel, the LDF team successfully litigated the case and achieved a rare unanimous ruling in a civil rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result of that victory, more than 100 of LDF’s clients were hired as Chicago firefighters. Mr. Adegbile has argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court. He defended the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act’s (VRA) preclearance provisions before the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. __ (2013), and in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, 55 U.S. 193 (2009).

One of the hallmarks of Mr. Adegbile’s professionalism has been his zealous commitment tocompetent legal representation for all his clients, whether as part of his work at a law firm or at LDF. Since the announcement of his nomination, Mr. Adegbile has been attacked by some for his appellate representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We believe that this representation strengthens his nomination, rather than weakens it.

It is a fundamental tenet of the Constitution and our justice system that anyone who faces the loss of liberty has a right to counsel. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to provide zealous representation to people who otherwise stand alone against the power and resources of the government. Even the most unpopular defendants deserve competent legal representation, particularly when he or she is facing the death penalty.

Countless attorneys provide thousands of hours of pro bono services every year. Many highly regarded attorneys have provided their services to condemned defendants, understanding and appreciating this call for competent legal representation. Before being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, current Chief Justice Roberts aided lawyers at his firm in their representation of a man convicted of killing eight people. Roberts has said “lawyers don’t stand in the shoes of their clients and [ ] good lawyers can give advice and argue any side of a case.”[1]Kenneth Starr, former Solicitor General to George H. W. Bush and a former federal judge, assisted in the representation of a death row inmate. Discussing the case, he explained, “Society had better be absolutely certain before they put someone to death who is maintaining his innocence. I feel very passionately about that.”[2]Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman and current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli have provided pro bono representation to indigent condemned prisoners. Waxman, who served as Solicitor General under President Bill Clinton, successfully received a new trial for a Texas inmate because of racial discrimination during jury selection. Gregory Garre, former Solicitor General under George W. Bush, represented an indigent Alabama inmate convicted of two counts of capital murder who faced execution without further review as a result of an error by his former representation. Miguel Estrada, a partner at Gibson Dunn, and former Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George H. W. Bush represented a condemned prisoner whose sentence was struck down by a federal court due to the prosecution’s suppression of material concerning a key prosecution witness.

As these high profile examples demonstrate, the commitment to the adequate representation of a capital defendant is a non-partisan legal tenet. LDF accepted Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case at the appellate level, contending that his constitutional rights had been violated during his trial, after federal courts reviewing the case ruled unanimously that Abu-Jamal was due a new sentencing hearing free of constitutional error. LDF’s challenge was based on procedural error and rooted in two settled principles of law: A person’s trial must be free from discrimination or racial bias, especially when facing a death sentence; and jurors must be allowed to consider whether or not they can find reasons to spare a defendant’s life when considering punishment by death.

Although a few police organizations have indicated opposition to Mr. Adegbile’s nomination, it is notable that the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) declared their “unwavering support” for the confirmation of Mr Adegbile, explaining in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee sent on January 24, 2014,

[W]e believe that Mr. Adegbile’s record of achievement is impressive, and he is well qualified for the position. Additionally, he has demonstrated a respect for the fundamental rights of all people under our constitution to have legal representation no matter how heinous the offense. We are confident in his ability to bring a balanced and ethical perspective into his role as head of the Civil Rights Division. The attacks on Mr. Adegbile’s character for upholding one’s constitutional rights are troubling. To take away one’s right to a proper defense because of the act committed, is against the constitutional oath that we as law enforcement officials have sworn to protect and defend.

Throughout his career, Mr. Adegbile has distinguished himself as a highly effective and respected advocate who achieved successes both inside and outside the courtroom. The son of immigrants who worked his way from poverty to the top of the legal profession, Mr. Adegbile is a steadfast voice for equality and opportunity for all Americans.

Mr. Adegbile will lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division with integrity, professionalism, and a deep commitment to its important and historic mission of ensuring that our nation lives up to its promise of equality and justice for all. We urge you to support the confirmation of this extraordinary nominee. If you have any questions, please contact The Leadership Conference’s Executive Vice President Nancy Zirkin or Senior Counsel Lisa Bornstein at (202) 466-3311.


Wade Henderson
President & CEO

Nancy Zirkin
Executive Vice President

[1]Confirmation Hearing for John Roberts for Chief Justice of the United States, September 14 and 15, 2005.

[2]Markon, Jerry. “Kenneth Starr Argues Capital Case.” The Washington Post. Wed. Feb 2, 2005. p. B01.

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