Senate Dems Join GOP to Block Justice Nominee Who Defended Cop Killer

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Seven Democrats took a rare step Wednesday and joined Republicans to oppose President Obama's pick to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

The Senate failed to advance the nomination of attorney Debo Adegbile by a vote of 47 to 52 as eight Democratic senators voted against invoking cloture on the nominee. The senators included Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Chris Coons, D-Del., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Walsh, D-Mt. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joined the seven senators by voting no for technical reasons which allow him to bring up the nominee in the future.

Adegbile's nomination was controversial because of his previous work as counsel for the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, which helped overturn the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted over 30 years ago of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Both of Pennsylvania's senators, including Democrat Casey, were vocal in their opposition to Adegbile's nomination.

New Senate rules last year only require 51 votes to clear a procedural hurdle on nominees, which normally offers Senate Democrats enough room to get the president's nominees passed through the Senate. But Democrats fell short of the votes needed after seven decided to vote against Adegbile, who also once worked as a child actor on "Sesame Street."

Vice President Joe Biden even traveled to Capitol Hill to preside over the Senate in case he was needed to cast a tie-breaking vote, a vice presidential duty he has never performed.

President Obama expressed disappointment in the Senate's rejection of Adegbile.

"The Senate's failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile's qualifications are impeccable," President Obama said. "As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him. The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice - and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."