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View Full Version : Court Rules Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Death Sentence is Unconstitutional, Grants New Sentencing Hearing



Magda Hassan
04-28-2011, 02:46 AM
http://www.democracynow.org/images/story/17/20017/mumiabutton.jpgSome great news! Now, to get the same for Leonard Peltier.






The case of Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal took a surprising turn Tuesday when the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared his death sentence unconstitutional. It is the second time the court has agreed with a lower court judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. Now Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and journalist, could get a new sentencing hearing in court. We speak with his co-counsel, Judith Ritter, and Linn Washington, an award-winning journalist who has followed Abu-Jamal’s case for almost three decades.

Filed under Mumia Abu-Jamal (http://www.democracynow.org/tags/mumia_abu_jamal), Death Penalty (http://www.democracynow.org/tags/death_penalty)

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Guests:
Judith Ritter (http://www.democracynow.org/appearances/judith_ritter), attorney who represented Mumia Abu-Jamal since 2002. She is also professor of law and director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at Widener Law School.
Linn Washington (http://www.democracynow.org/appearances/linn_washington), award-winning journalist and columnist for the [I]Philadelphia Tribune and assistant professor of journalism at Temple University. He has been following Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case for almost three decades.
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As Competing Films Offer Differing Views on Faulkner Killing, New Evidence Suggests Key Witnesses Lied at Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Trial (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/9/22/as_competing_films_offer_differing_views)
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"Shocked and Appalled": Sister of Death Row Prisoner Troy Davis Responds to Supreme Court Ruling (http://www.democracynow.org/2011/3/29/shocked_and_appalled_sister_of_death)


RUSH TRANSCRIPT

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Mumia Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts on Prison Radio (http://www.prisonradio.org/mumia.htm)
Democracy Now!’s Complete Archive of Reports On and By Mumia Abu-Jamal (http://www.democracynow.org/tags/mumia_abu_jamal)



AMY GOODMAN: The case of Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal took a surprising turn Tuesday when an appeals court unanimously declared his death sentence unconstitutional. It’s the second time the court has done so.
Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther and journalist. For decades, he has argued racism by the trial judge and prosecutors led to his 1982 conviction of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Two years ago, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court then ordered the court to reexamine the decision. Now that the ruling has been upheld, Abu-Jamal could get a new sentencing hearing in court before a new jury.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he’ll appeal the federal court’s decision to grant a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SETH WILLIAMS: What I’m going to do is I’m going to review fully the opinion of the Court of Appeals, but it is my belief at this point that I will ask the Supreme Court to clarify and to make a decision on what we should do at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
Well, to discuss these latest developments in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, we go to Philadelphia, where we’re joined by his attorney, Judy Ritter. She has worked on his case as his co-counsel since 2002 and wrote the legal arguments in this appeal.
We’re also joined by Linn Washington, the award-winning journalist and columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. He has followed Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case for almost three decades.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Judy Ritter, why don’t you start off by explaining exactly what this decision is? How significant is it? What does it mean for Mumia Abu-Jamal?
JUDITH RITTER: It’s enormously significant. It was literally a life-or-death decision, and it upholds the setting aside of the death penalty that occurred in early 2000. So, the DA has challenged that ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutionally implemented, and we’ve once again prevailed in the courts with regard to the ruling that it was an unconstitutional sentence that was handed down by the jury.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could explain exactly what the process was that this court has found unconstitutional, what the jurors are given, what they understood, the instructions they were given at the time.
JUDITH RITTER: Sure. You know, death penalty law is very clear that a jury has to be very free to consider any possible evidence that would suggest the death penalty is inappropriate. And Supreme Court case law, all federal case law, has been consistent that nothing can suggest to the jury that they have restrictions with regard to the consideration of mitigating evidence.
And what happened here—and this is not that uncommon in Pennsylvania at the time—is that the jury was led to believe, because the instructions were incorrect, that unless they all agreed that a particular mitigating circumstance existed, they couldn’t consider it. And that’s not the law. The law is that an individual juror may find a mitigating circumstance and considerate it, in weighing it, in determining whether to vote for death or not. And so, because this jury was misled, because the instructions and the verdict sheet were highly misleading—not even close, actually—the district court judge originally said that it was unfair, the Third Circuit said it was unfair in 2008, and again yesterday the Third Circuit said, "Despite recent Supreme Court cases, we’re confident that this was an unfair death sentence."
AMY GOODMAN: And so, Judith Ritter, what does this mean? What is the timetable that was given? What does it mean to impanel a new jury? And what will they be hearing?
JUDITH RITTER: Well, to just back up for a minute, what it means immediately, according to the DA—and you mentioned that in the beginning—the DA says that he’s going to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether the Third Circuit is right. So that will take a good few months. And just, the Supreme Court may or may not agree to even look at the case. If they refuse to look at the case, if they denycertiorari, as they do in many, many cases, then the District Attorney will make a choice. Do they convene a new penalty phase? Do they ask a new jury to sentence Mumia to death, or not? That would mean, if they decided to do it, a jury gets selected, and evidence is presented by the prosecutor. They have the burden of trying to persuade a jury that death is appropriate. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, then of course that will be briefed in the Supreme court. And the issue that’s already been ruled upon by four federal judges would have to be considered by the Supreme Court, but only if they agree to review it.
AMY GOODMAN: So this jury that will hear the sentencing part, whether he would get the death sentence or life without parole or a life sentence, how much evidence can be presented in that case?
JUDITH RITTER: It depends on what the evidence is relevant to, right? With regard to sentencing, with regard to whether there are aggravating circumstances or mitigating circumstances, it’s pretty broad in terms of what evidence can be presented. What type of evidence that related to the guilt would have to really be decided at the time. It becomes a difficult issue when it’s a new jury who didn’t sit at the trial years back. So those issues would have to be litigated, actually, with regard to what evidence would be presented, and it would be important legal calls that that judge, who would be selected also, would have to make.
AMY GOODMAN: And if there was new evidence?
JUDITH RITTER: New evidence with regard to innocence, do you mean?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
JUDITH RITTER: Well, if there were new evidence with regard to innocence, that would be presented in a different forum. That would have to be presented in a post-conviction action that could be filed in the state court, and possibly federal court down the line. Anything new would have to be litigated aside from a new penalty phase.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, isn’t there also another appeal pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court? Can you talk about that?
JUDITH RITTER: Yes, I can. Yeah, a petition was filed, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is reviewing it. The National Academy of Sciences, which is a congressionally appointed academy with very highly respected scientists, came out with a report a couple of years ago discrediting so much of the forensic evidence that courts have been using for many years. And part of that was ballistics testimony. And so, we filed a petition alleging—and I think we have strong grounds to allege this—that the ballistics evidence in the testimony from the ballistics expert in Mumia’s trial was now discredited, that it’s not reliable evidence. And so, based upon that, we’ve asked for a new trial, because of that new information. That was denied by the lower court, and that is currently pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
AMY GOODMAN: Linn Washington, you have been covering Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case since the beginning, almost 30 years now. Were you surprised by this ruling?
LINN WASHINGTON: I wasn’t surprised by the ruling. The court, in its opinion in 2008, was very meticulous in how it examined this particular issue. So, for them to be asked—or more specifically, ordered—by the Supreme Court of the United States to reexamine this meticulous deliberation they gave, I didn’t think that the court would come to a different conclusion. However, as Professor Ritter and I were talking about before we came on live, you can’t really predict what’s going to happen in this case, because the rulings from the courts have been so perverse and have bent and broken the law on so many occasions. I mean, it’s incredible that we’re at this point now where the courts have now said that of all of the things that have happened in this case, there’s only one issue that we find problematic, and that’s a statistical improbability, if not impossible.
AMY GOODMAN: Go back to the beginning of this trial. I mean, it was December 9th, 1981, that Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner pulled over a car driven by William Cook, Mumia’s brother. Mumia’s birth name was Wesley Cook. And in the end, in that altercation, two people were shot: Faulkner and Mumia Abu-Jamal himself. Faulkner died. Faulkner was a white police officer. Mumia Abu-Jamal was black, a black journalist living in Philadelphia. The jury happens. Describe the case—the trial happens. Describe that case and the judge, Sabo.
LINN WASHINGTON: Well, it was a very highly charged trial, as well as crime. And part of the thing that charged that was the racial element: a white cop and a person who self-identified as a black radical, a revolutionary, if it will. So that dominated headlines.
The actual structure of the trial was the type of proceeding that, if it occurred in another country and it involved an American, even Fox Television would find it to be ludicrous. We had a judge, Judge Sabo, who had a reputation of being pro-prosecution. I mean, this is what he publicly declared on numerous occasions. So, from a fundamental fairness point of view, how could you have a fair trial?
And then, this particular judge went on to not only select actual juror members, when he improperly withdrew Abu-Jamal’s right to represent himself, he determined what evidence the jury would hear. So, as Amnesty International said in its report in 2001, the jury that convicted Abu-Jamal didn’t even hear all of the evidence that was available at the time. And, of course, as we now know, there’s been a lot of other evidence that has come forward, and that jury never heard any of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, there was also the famous court stenographer, who said in an affidavit that she heard Judge Sabo say in the courtroom antechamber, "I’m going to help them fry the [N-word]," he said—the court stenographer said about Sabo.
LINN WASHINGTON: Right. She overheard this. She agonized with it for a number of years, actually about 11 or 12 years, came forward, presented that information. When it went to the court, they essentially said, "Well, we don’t know. If the guy is racist, it’s no big deal, because it was a jury trial." Well, like I just said, he determined a lot of elements in the trial. But the one missing element in that whole—this particular angle, in terms of this revelation, was that this court stenographer was with a judge, a judge who was a member of the Philadelphia court at the time and subsequently served on the appellate court in Pennsylvania. So, if there was a real effort on the part of the system— prosecutors and the courts—to really determine the validity, or lack thereof, of this charge against Sabo, they could have went and talked to this judge, and they never did. And I think they never did, because they didn’t want to hear the answer, which was: yes, Sabo said it, he was a racist, and that invalidates the whole trial; Abu-Jamal deserves a new trial.
AMY GOODMAN: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Tuesday, while the decision means Abu-Jamal might get a life sentence instead of the death penalty, it does not change his first-degree murder conviction. This is Williams.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SETH WILLIAMS: This is not a case of "who done it?" The Court of Appeals had ruled that this is not for a new evidentiary hearing, that Mumia Abu-Jamal did in fact kill Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. Linn Washington, your response?
LINN WASHINGTON: And that was sophistry. On the surface, yes, the courts have upheld that, but that is the real travesty in this case, that the courts have dismissed all of the overwhelming factual evidence that the crime did not occur as the police and prosecution claimed and also that Abu-Jamal didn’t shoot the officer, as he’s been convicted of. Now, the courts have upheld it, but again I say, that is one of the true travesties in this whole case, that they could look at this overwhelming evidence and say, "Well, we don’t think that’s any problem. Yes, the judge is a racist. Yes, cops lied in court. Yes, evidence was fabricated. No, there’s not the evidence that you claim that there is. But we don’t see any problems here. We have overturned hundreds of cases from Philadelphia by the same district attorney’s office, but in this particular case, the one that gets the most international attention, we don’t see any problems at all." I think that’s problematic for any fair-minded person.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Judy Ritter, what does the timetable look like right now? It was 2001, in fact, that this already, in a sense, took place, yet Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to live on death row, as he has for almost 30 years now.
JUDITH RITTER: That’s correct, he does. And I think not everybody realizes that, that even throughout, even though the death sentence was set aside, he hasn’t moved from death row at all. You know, I think that the timetable now is—really depends on the Supreme Court. If they don’t choose to review this within several months, that should be decided. If they do, the briefing and the presentations in the Supreme Court will take a lot longer than that.
I just want to add something about what the District Attorney said yesterday, because everything, I think, he said has to be taken with a huge grain of salt, because he also said that there was racism in the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania at that time. He admits that, and he says, "But not in this case." Well, really, nothing could be further from the truth. And what Linn just said is—you know, a huge amount of the evidence that there was so much racism at play in this case. And for him to make a statement like that, it just seems disingenuous.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Linn Washington, Philadelphia Tribune, has covered the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal since the beginning. And Judith Ritter has represented Mumia Abu-Jamal since 2002. She’s also a professor of law and director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at Widener Law School in Pennsylvania.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, as we turn to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest audio column, produced by Prison Radio. Mumia Abu-Jamal does a weekly column that is run on radio stations around the country. He did this on April 24th. It’s called "The Method of Their Madness."

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: "The Method of Their Madness."

Across America, jaws are tightened and hearts race over rising gas prices, which, in turn, hikes prices all along the line of product distribution, as manufacturers and merchandisers add their increased transportation cost to prices. Americans are surly, shaking their fists at Arab potentates, dreaming wild dreams of desert conquests that will bring this vital resource under U.S. control.

What the average American doesn’t know is that less than 20 percent of all imported oil comes from the Middle East and that the reason for much of the heightened prices is because of pure speculation and fear stoked by news stories of unrest in the region. And what event caused the greatest regional unrest in the past 25 years? The Iraq war. Yeah, the Iraq war. And the unrest has sent oil prices spiking upwards. For example, on the eve of the war, oil sold at $30 a barrel. By spring 2008, it was $126 a barrel. Today, it’s $108 per barrel.

Still, for the last few years, Exxon Mobil made more money on petroleum sales than any company in the history of capital. Last year, Exxon made $30 billion in profits. Thirty billion. For these ends, wars are fought. Tens, even hundreds, of thousands are slain. The Constitution is shredded. The economy is bottomed out. Schools are hollowed out. And politicians are but prostitutes in suits—with my apologies to honest prostitutes. Terrorism is a chimera, a political tool to mask deeper economic drives to dominate and control the world’s sole remaining natural resource: oil. There is a method to this madness. It’s called profit.

From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal released that commentary on April 24th, his 58th birthday. He has been doing weekly commentaries for years, produced by Prison Radio and Noel Hanrahan. We have interviewed him on Democracy Now!. You can go to our website to see all the interviews. In 1999, he came on the broadcast (http://www.democracynow.org/1999/8/12/puerto_rican_political_prisoners) to comment on the release of a number of Puerto Rican indepedentista activists. As he spoke to us on the phone, his phone was ripped out of the wall by prison authorities. Mumia sued and later won that case for violation of his rights.
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/4/27/court_rules_mumia_abu_jamals_death

Peter Lemkin
04-28-2011, 04:40 AM
Yes, good news in a sea of bad...BUT the legal system in the USA won't let the original kangaroo trial to be revisited to free him as an innocent and political prisoner! Its a conspiracy!

Peter Lemkin
03-06-2014, 09:27 PM
A group of Senate Democrats has broken ranks with President Obama to block a key nominee. In a 52-47 vote, the Senate rejected the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Adegbile is a widely respected lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court on voting rights issues. The confirmation fight focused almost solely on his role in the legal defense of imprisoned Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, (http://www.democracynow.org/topics/mumia_abu_jamal) who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. Adegbile was part of a team of lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who successfully argued the trial judge’s jury instructions violated Abu-Jamal’s rights. Seven Democrats joined with Republicans to defeat Adegbile’s bid. In a statement, President Obama called the vote "a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant."

Senate Race-Baiting? Dems Join GOP to Block Obama DOJ Pick Tied to Legal Defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal


In a stunning vote, a group of U.S. Senate Democrats has broken ranks to join Republicans in rejecting President Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Debo Adegbile. The confirmation fight focused almost solely on Adegbile’s role in the legal defense of imprisoned Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, despite Abu-Jamal’s longstanding position of being not guilty. Adegbile was part of a team of lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who successfully argued the trial judge’s jury instructions violated Abu-Jamal’s rights. Adegbile’s supporters say the attacks on him mark a new form of Willie Horton politics and race baiting. We discuss the controversy with two guests: Johanna Fernández, professor of history at Baruch College-CUNY and a coordinator with the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, and Ryan Haygood, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Political Participation Group.


Transcript This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A group of Senate Democrats broke ranks with President Obama Wednesday as they joined Republicans to block his pick to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. In a 52-to-47 vote, the Senate rejected the nomination of Debo Adegbile, the former acting head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Adegbile is a widely respected lawyer who had led the group’s defense of voting rights.
AMY GOODMAN: But the confirmation fight focused almost solely on Adegbile’s role in the legal defense of imprisoned Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund argued the trial judge’s instructions to the jury violated Abu-Jamal’s rights. Federal courts agreed and in 2011 ordered a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal, a move that eventually took him off death row. Senator Ted Cruz was one of several Republicans who spoke out against Adegbile.

SEN. TED CRUZ: The Fraternal Order of Police vehemently opposes this nomination. According to a letter written by the president of the FOP, Adegbile’s nomination only exacerbates the, quote, "growing division and distrust" towards local law enforcement agencies, a trend that has continued from the time now Labor Secretary Thomas Perez was leading the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Peter Kirsanow, a member on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote, quote, "Responsible people should agree that going out of your way to defend a convicted cop-killer long after it has become unequivocally clear that he was guilty and had suffered no violation of his civil rights disqualifies one from serving as the head of a division of the U.S. Department of Justice."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who voted against Debo Adegbile’s confirmation. Seven Democrats joined Republicans in opposing Adegbile: Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, John Walsh of Montana and Chris Coons of Delaware. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also voted no, which, under Senate rules, allows him to bring the nomination back to the floor at a later date. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin defended Adegbile’s nomination.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: The Bush administration’s solicitor general, Paul Clement, stated—and I quote—"I have litigated both with and against Debo and have heard him argue in the Supreme Court. I have always found him to be a formidable advocate of the highest intellect, skills and integrity." Mr. Adegbile’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal does not mean that he lacks respect for the rule of law, and it certainly should not disqualify him for this important civil rights job. In fact, his willingness to represent an unpopular defendant in an emotionally charged case demonstrates his appreciation for the rule of law, as well as his respect for the criminal justice system. His critics have attempted to characterize him as someone who actively sought out this case, someone who disparaged the officer who was cut down in the line of duty, Officer Faulkner, and someone who was responsible for Abu-Jamal’s death sentence being overturned. Each of these characterizations is wrong, inaccurate and unfair.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin speaking Wednesday.
President Obama called the vote a "travesty. Obama said, quote, "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."
Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. Johanna Fernández is with us, professor of history at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, one of the coordinators of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home. She’s editor of the collection of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s essays, Writing on the Wall. Ryan Haygood is the director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Political Participation Group.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don’t we begin with you, Ryan? The significance of Debo Adegbile’s rejection by the Democrats as well as the Republicans of the Senate?
RYAN HAYGOOD: Sure. I mean, I appreciate you having me on the show, Amy. It’s really hard to overstate what the U.S. Senate did yesterday. In a shameful vote, the Senate essentially decided that being a lawyer disqualifies one from holding a legal position. More specifically, the U.S. Senate essentially held yesterday that serving this country as a public servant in the highest aspirations of the legal tradition and being one of the pre-eminent civil rights litigators in America disqualifies one—here, Debo Adegbile—from serving as the top lawyer in the Civil Rights Division for the Department of Justice.
And what’s striking in watching the debate yesterday on the Senate floor is that none of the discussion was about the merits, the substance of Debo’s qualifications. There’s no disagreement about him being a pre-eminent civil rights attorney whose worldview and experience speak to his qualification for this position. What the Senate lacked yesterday was the political will to do the right thing and give the American people what they deserve in having a person who is eminently qualified, like Debo Adegbile, serve in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and the amazing thing about this is, apparently, his involvement in this appeal of the death sentence was almost tangential. It wasn’t even—he wasn’t even a key lawyer in the case. Can you talk about who was actually conducting or involved in the case for the Legal Defense Fund?
RYAN HAYGOOD: Sure. The case was chiefly handled, expertly, by the director of our criminal justice group, Christina Swarns. Debo was overseeing all of the litigation in the Legal Defense Fund, which included this case involving Mr. Mumia Abu-Jamal. And to your point, when you focus on what was really at issue in this case, there were four federal judges, two of whom were appointed by Ronald Reagan, one of whom was appointed by George Bush, which found that there was a constitutional violation at issue in this case, involving the jury instructions, and that it was appropriate for Mr. Abu-Jamal’s death sentence to be altered to life without parole. So, even when you focus on the merits of the issue at hand, you find that Debo’s involvement in this case, though he wasn’t primarily responsible for representing Mr. Abu-Jamal, that his involvement is actually in line with the highest traditions of our legal profession, which is affording everyone their constitutional rights afforded to any criminal defendant.
AMY GOODMAN: His name on several of the documents because he was the acting head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund?
RYAN HAYGOOD: That’s right. That’s right. As the acting head of LDF, Debo was on all of the legal briefs. In this case, he appeared on two briefs before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and one brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Johanna Fernández, the significance of the ability of the lobby of police organizations around the country to essentially tar Adegbile with Mumia Abu-Jamal and the refusal to accept, by the police organizations, that the courts have already ruled, one, that the death penalty in this case was not properly administered or ruled to Mumia?
JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: Well, I think that we have to outline what the strategy was that was used to tar Adegbile, because this has been used historically to dismiss nominees and elected officials who are not in line with the interests of a particular section of society. So what exactly did they do? They essentially appealed to the racism of white voters by creating a target. And this target is Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom they depict as a monster, unrepentant, cop killer. And then they link him to Adegbile in order to scare Democrats from supporting him, especially in the run-up to an election. Now, I think that it’s important to note that in the post-civil rights and Black Power era, the alleged killing of a police officer is synonymous with the notion of a white—a black man killing—raping, excuse me—a white man raping a white woman. And this then becomes the basis upon which a legal lynching happens. And this narrative is deployed—it’s the Southern strategy. It’s essentially deployed to instill fear and intimidation in a white, latently racist voter population.
And, you know, at some point we have to say that Mumia was lynched in the courts. Part of what the Fraternal Order of Police says is that the movement to free Mumia cares not about the pain of Maureen Faulkner. But part of what we have to say is that justice for Maureen Faulkner is tied to finding out who killed Officer Faulkner. One of the most important things in this case is that there was a fourth person at the scene of the crime, and that person was seen running away from the crime scene and was identified as the shooter. But that detail was suppressed at trial by the prosecution. The question is, why? We believe that Mumia is innocent and justice for Maureen Faulkner is tied to finding out who killed Officer Faulkner. Why doesn’t the Fraternal Order of Police want to discover the truth in this case?
AMY GOODMAN: This is Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania opposing Adegbile’s nomination last month. As he addressed his colleagues, he stood before an oversized photograph of Daniel Faulkner, the police officer Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY: When they should have been pursuing their historic role in providing the truth and justice for American people, they were advancing neither cause. It’s also important to point out that this was never a case of a criminal deserving a legal defense. OK? Criminals do deserve appropriate legal counsel in their defense. The fact is, the trial had occurred decades ago. Abu-Jamal had multiple high-cost lawyers volunteering their time. He had plenty of lawyers. He didn’t need more lawyers. What Mr. Adegbile did was he decided to join a political cause. That’s what he decided to do. That’s what this was all about. And in my view, by doing so, he demonstrated his own contempt for—and, frankly, a willingness to undermine—the criminal justice system of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, where Mumia Abu-Jamal, of course, is in prison. Johanna Fernández, can you talk about the campaign to oppose Debo Adegbile? What happened in the Senate? I heard a lot from the opposition in this period of time leading up to the vote; I heard very little from groups supporting Debo Adegbile.
JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: So, the campaign against Debo Adegbile was initiated by the Fraternal Order of Police, and it began when they wrote a letter to the president of the United States that essentially demonized Mumia Abu-Jamal and linked Debo Adegbile to Mumia’s alleged shooting of the police officer. And then they proceeded to lobby politicians, like Senator Toomey, but also the first black DA of Philadelphia, Seth Williams. Both of those, Senator Toomey and Seth Williams, ended up writing a letter (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304610404579401483616494254) to The Wall Street Journal filled with lies both about Mumia’s case and a misrepresentation of Debo Adegbile’s association with the case. It was a vociferous campaign, and it was a grassroots campaign. And this is what the right does. They actually went into the floor of the Senate about three weeks ago when an initial vote was taken, and they had literature about Mumia Abu-Jamal and Debo Adegbile filled with lies. And part of what we learn from this example is that if voices of conscience do not organize, like the right does, to present the truth and the facts of the case, they end up winning.
RYAN HAYGOOD: And I tell you, part of the reason why the Senate’s vote yesterday is so tragic is because, as a practical matter, it now leaves the head of the Civil Rights Division position open at a pivotal time in American history where we’re dealing with all manner of inequality, in the civil rights context, in the Stand Your Ground law context. There is the issue of the role of race in higher education. And for me as a voting rights lawyer, one of the more important issues is how do we respond to the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in the Shelby County case last term.
What’s striking about the Senate’s vote against Debo yesterday is that he was one of the people who took the lead in helping to develop the record that Congress used to reauthorize this core provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, and it was Debo Adegbile who twice defended what Congress did before the U.S. Supreme Court, first successfully in the MUD case, and secondly, most recently, when the Supreme Court in Shelby County struck a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. So, the Senate—the U.S. Senate’s vote yesterday was really a vote against its own interests. Last term, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially gave Congress a vote of no confidence when it struck what Congress did by striking a core provision of the Voting Rights Act, and it was Debo who was one of the chief defenders of Congress’s work before the Supreme Court, two times, in some of the most important voting rights cases in our generation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, isn’t it entirely possible that the real reason behind the attempt to get him out was precisely that he would become, as head of the Civil Rights Division, a main proponent within the federal government of holding up the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities, just at the time when we have these elections coming up?
RYAN HAYGOOD: Sure, I think that’s right. But I also think that there was some interest convergence here. You know, I think it’s significant that Congress essentially was given the vote of no confidence by the Supreme Court and that the Supreme Court essentially said, "Look, your power to legislate around a core—a fundamental right, the right to vote, is being constrained by the Supreme Court decision." And Congress really had an opportunity to respond by working with Debo, and the Department of Justice under his leadership, to enact new voting rights legislation that would pass and that would restore what was lost in the Shelby County decision.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware was one of the seven Democrats who voted against Debo’s nomination. He said, quote, "At a time when the Civil Rights Division urgently needs better relations with the law enforcement community, I was troubled by the idea of voting for an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights who would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job. The vote I cast today was one of the most difficult I have taken since joining the Senate, but I believe it to be right for the people I represent."
And then there was Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator who voted also to oppose Adegbile’s nomination. Her office sent a fundraising email that claimed, quote, "If there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on, it’s that every American deserves the right to vote. It’s one of our most basic rights—but right now it’s under attack." Ryan Haygood, your response to this?
RYAN HAYGOOD: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think that could—I don’t think that could be more disingenuous, right? I think it’s well known by all in the civil rights community that Debo—some of Debo’s most important work was in the voting rights context. He would have been one of the chief champions in this moment to ensure that voters of color, in particular, aren’t made more vulnerable by the Supreme Court’s decision. He would have worked with Congress to get new voting rights legislation passed—to do precisely what Senator Heitkamp was expressing to her funders. And so, her vote against him is actually a vote against doing the thing that she promises to do here in this email to her funders.
JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: I think that at stake here is what the Fraternal Order of Police and its allies feared. Here you had the possibility of Debo Adegbile, someone who’s familiar with the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and who’s interested in issues of social justice, in the Department of Justice. What the Fraternal Order of Police feared was that, perhaps, with Debo in office, the Department of Justice might take on this case of investigating the police. One of the least-known facts in this case is that a third of the police officers involved in collecting evidence in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial were later convicted for corruption and tampering with evidence to obtain a conviction. And in 1979, the Department of Justice conducted an investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department, the largest ever in the history of the United States, that concluded that the level of brutality and corruption in the police department in Philadelphia, quote, "shocks the conscience." That’s what the Department of Justice concluded in 1979 at around the same time that Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted. And what the Fraternal Order of Police feared, which has an office in Washington, D.C., and initiated its organization in Philadelphia, is that they might actually come down with the election and nomination of Debo Adegbile.
But the problem is not just historical in this case. The Philadelphia police is infamous for police brutality. The latest case of brutality involves Darrin Manning, a 16-year-old boy whose testicles were ruptured in a stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia. And that group of people in Philadelphia, those people who are fighting for justice for Darrin Manning, are also calling for an investigation of the police in all of Philadelphia. And if the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal enters into a conversation in the Department of Justice, it’s over for the department of the police—of the police department in Philadelphia. Why? Because this is an international case. And as soon as there is any investigation, a lot of people are going to come down, including politicians, who have actually received money from the Fraternal Order of Police and who have actually run their campaigns on the execution and incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal. So the stakes politically are pretty high.
RYAN HAYGOOD: I think what this discussion brings to mind is that we really are in this pivotal time where there are lots of important issues in the civil rights context that must be addressed. But the Senate’s vote yesterday has provided us with no head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, at a time when we are upon the 49th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march that folks know from Selma, Alabama, which ultimately resulted in the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. We’re celebrating that this year after a Supreme Court decision that struck a core part of it. This weekend in Selma, Alabama, the LDF will be hosting a voting rights workshop, and our focus will really be on assessing where we are in this moment and how we can, in the voting rights context, in particular, ensure that voters of color aren’t made even more vulnerable by what the Supreme Court did.
But I also think that another takeaway from the Senate votes—the Senate’s vote yesterday is that there is really a chilling effect, right? So, lawyers like me who practice in the public sphere and who are civil rights lawyers were told essentially by Congress yesterday that being a lawyer will really disqualify you from a legal position, particularly in the government context. And that’s what I think is the most shameful takeaway, particularly for those members of the Senate who themselves were lawyers.
AMY GOODMAN: That you would be afraid to take on difficult cases.
RYAN HAYGOOD: Absolutely. There is—
AMY GOODMAN: That it would jeopardize any kind of political career.
RYAN HAYGOOD: Right. I think that—I think that’s right. I think the takeaway from yesterday’s vote is that if you are interested in a career in government, you ought to tread very, very carefully about the kinds of cases you take. I think it’s very true that if Chief Justice John Roberts today went before the Senate, given his pro bono assistance to a Florida man who was convicted of killing eight people, that he’d have a very, very steep hill to climb in getting the Senate to confirm him.