Fox's Fact-Free Attempt To Distinguish Between DOJ Nominee Debo Adegbile And Chief Justice Roberts


SR Adegbile

Fox News attempted to distinguish between Chief Justice John Roberts and civil rights litigator Debo Adegbile by arguing that Adegbile is unqualified to pass Senate nomination because his defense of a murderer was politicized, due to his alleged participation in rallies supporting his former client. However, Fox is conflating Adegbile with a former colleague of his, who GOP senators suggested had politicized the trial of his former client, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On March 5, the Senate procedural vote that would have allowed a confirmation vote on Adegbile's nomination to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) failed, despite the fact that Adegbile is a mainstream nominee who is regarded as one of the preeminent civil rights experts of his generation by a wide spectrum of authorities, including law enforcement executives and the American Bar Association. The Senate's failure to confirm Adegbile reflects right-wing media attempts to distort his record with lies about his background and racially charged attacks, which have included labeling Adegbile a "cop killer's coddler" and a "cop-killer advocate." These attacks reference Adegbile's defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose death sentence was successfully contested by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), which Adegbile headed at the time.

In light of the blocked confirmation, many have pointed out that defending a reprehensible murderer has not been a disqualifier for other high-profile government nominees, such as current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who also once represented a death-row inmate convicted of killing eight people in Florida.

On the March 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier attempted to distinguish Justice Roberts from Adegbile by arguing that Adegbile, unlike Roberts, "became more political in his support" of his client. Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer concluded that blocking Adegbile's confirmation was "the right thing," because although Adegbile "didn't choose the case," "the one thing that sways it here is that he participated in rallies":

However, by excusing Roberts while admonishing Adegbile, Baier and Krauthammer are conflating the actions of Adegbile's colleague with his own. It was Adegbile's then-colleague at the LDF, Christina Swarns, who was outspoken in her advocacy for Abu-Jamal. The issue of rallies for Mumia Abu-Jamal was raised by GOP senators who questioned Adegbile about them -- however, these senators recognized that it was Swarns, not Adegbile, who attended a rally for Abu-Jamal, where she made comments they found concerning. Adegbile responded that he was "not aware of the context" of remarks Swarns made that day:

9. On January 28, 2011, your colleague Christina A. Swarns, who appears with you on two LDF Supreme Court briefs on which you are counsel of record, stated at a rally for Mr. Abu-Jamal that "there is no question in the mind of anyone at the Legal Defense Fund that the justice system has completely and utterly failed Mumia Abu-Jamal and in our view, that has everything to do with race and that is why the legal defense fund is in this case."

 a. Does Ms. Swarns's claim that the "justice system...completely and utterly failed Mumia Abu-Jamal in [LDF's] view" refer to LDF's prior allegations of a culture of racial discrimination in the Philadelphia County District Attorney's Office?

ANSWER: Ms. Swarns was counsel of record on the aforementioned briefs; I was not. I am not familiar with Ms. Swarns' comments and am not aware of the context in which they were offered. I do not know what Ms. Swarns had in mind when she made the comment. 

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