debo-adegbile_web.jpgThe United States Senate committed a shameful act against a distinguished black attorney when it rejected the nomination of Mr. Debo Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Not even his strongest detractors could accuse Mr. Adegbile of being unqualified. What they held against him was the fact that he was a member of a legal team assembled by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to represent Mumia Abu-Jamal. That was it. He represented a black man in the criminal justice system and he was punished for it.

The Senate had to balance the understandable grief of Ms. Maureen Faulkner, whose policeman husband Mr. Abu-Jamal killed some 33 years ago, against the most basic assumption of the rule of law: that everything possible must be done to ensure that justice does not translate into vengeance, at least not in the year 2014.

Much to the consternation of many people, eight Democrats joined with all 44 Republicans to block the nomination from coming to a vote.

Spurred by an emotional letter from Ms. Faulkner and pressure from the National Fraternal Order of Police, a Senate majority put Mr. Adegbile on trial as the surrogate for Mr. Abu-Jamal, whose murder conviction was overturned after a 30-year legal battle and replaced by a sentence of life in prison. They could not put Mr.

Abu-Jamal to death but they could take it out on a member of the legal team that worked within the law to successfully challenge his sentence.

But, as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pointed out during the debate, John Adams, a Founding Father, represented a British soldier as the Revolutionary War was breaking out. He also pointed out that Chief Justice John Roberts provided free legal representation to a man awaiting execution in Florida for killing eight people and the Senate did not block his nomination to a lower court position in 2003. Nor, for that matter, was it held against him during his Chief Justice confirmation hearings.

It is equally disturbing that the legal profession has not come out forcefully aainst this obvious assault on the nation’s system of justice and how it functions. Sacrificing the rule of law to political expediency is the hallmark of petty dictatorships, not the United States of America.

President Barack Obama called the frontal assault on Mr. Adegbile  “travesty based on unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”  We agree.