Today, over 1,000 law professors and deans have signed onto a letter condemning the disturbing message sent by the Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile for Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. Adegbile’s cloture vote failed before the Senate after he was unfairly targeted for participating in the successful appellate litigation of one of our capital cases. As one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation, Adegbile committed most of his life’s work to advancing civil rights in America.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund staunchly agrees with the principles set forth in the letter: “Simply put, the rule of law cannot succeed if attorneys are judged guilty by association with their clients,” the law professors write. “In rejecting a qualified nominee for public service based on conduct which reflects the best of our profession, the Senate has done a grave disservice to the legal profession and those who seek to enter it.” Indeed, no lawyer should have to worry that the actions of a former client will be conflated with the guiding principle of our legal system under which everyone is entitled to representation.
The law professors correctly emphasize the importance of pro bono legal services. In its rejection of Adegbile’s nomination, the Senate has sent a dreadful message to law students and young lawyers who seek to undertake the emotionally and intellectually challenging work of representing capital clients. The Senate’s vote tells them to carefully choose whom they represent as their clients’ alleged actions may later endanger their own eligibility for prominent government positions.
In light of this powerful statement and the continuing public outcry following the Senate’s vote, we strongly urge the Senate to abandon its use of a litmus test when considering lawyers who have represented unpopular clients and are later nominated for government service.