WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said Friday he will vote against Senate confirmation of Debo Adegbile, an Obama administration nominee who has been criticized for his role in trying to overturn the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer.
Casey is believed to be the first Congressional Democrat to publicly oppose the nomination, which is set for a key procedural vote Monday.
Adegbile has been picked to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, but he has faced stiff opposition from Pennsylvania Republicans due to his role in the charged Abu-Jamal case. Adegbile, as part of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, supervised a team in 2009 that represented Abu-Jamal before the Supreme Court as he sought to have his death sentence overturned.
"I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime," Casey said in a statement issued Friday. "At the same time, it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives - both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia. After carefully considering this nomination and having met with both Mr. Adegbile as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, I will not vote to confirm the nominee."
Abu-Jamal was found guilty in the killing of Philadelphia police office Daniel Faulkner. His death sentence was later overturned, and the case remains a flash point in Philadelphia.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) have vocally opposed Adegbile's nominaton. So has District Attorney Seth Williams, a Democrat.
He has said he had no direct role in writing the NAACP briefs in its appeal, but that lawyers have a professional duty to protect the rights of even the most unpopular clients.
Democrats have defended Adegbile, saying it is unfair to single out one case among many he has worked on. Republicans have been outraged that he would be nominated.
Despite Casey's opposition, Adegbile could still win confirmation. He needs 51 votes to clear Monday's procedural hurdle.