WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s controversial nominee to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division was rejected in a bipartisan Senate vote Wednesday due to concerns the nominee aided in the legal fight of a convicted cop killer.
The confirmation of Debo Adegbile failed on a procedural vote of 47-52. Colorado Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet voted in favor of the nominee.
Adegbile is currently employed as a Senate staffer to Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Adegbile previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The defense fund helped overturn the death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who is serving a life-sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
Although seven Democrats voted with Republicans to derail the nominations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested that opposition was based on Adegbile’s race.
Adegbile, who is African American, is the first Obama nominee rejected by the Senate since Reid pushed through contentious changes that allowed some nominees to clear the confirmation process with a simple majority of votes.
Udall, who is campaigning for re-election this year, attracted criticism from one Republican leadership aide who sought to link the senior senator to President Obama.
“People in Colorado want a senator that’s independent, not someone who’s going to do what Obama wants,” the aide said.
A spokesman for Udall did not respond to a request for comment.