Debo Adegbile

  • February 13, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In reality most likely did not expect landmark reform of the filibuster to usher in halcyon days of bipartisanship over executive branch nominations in the Senate. Though that reform did help U.S. Senators overcome partisan-led obstruction of some of President Obama’s judicial nominations, such as those to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, it was hardly going to radically change the way the current Senate functions.

    There remain some executive branch positions that conservatives in the Senate see no urgency in filling, such as a leader for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. And so President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile, a highly regarded attorney especially in the civil rights field, was almost inevitable to draw some kind of opposition. Primarily some Senate Republicans and conservative pundits have sought to scuttle Adegbile’s nomination by disparaging some of his work at the venerable civil rights organization, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF). Specifically some opponents of Adegbile’s nomination argue he is unfit to serve because of LDF’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted killer facing a death sentence.

    But Adegbile’s nomination is advancing – the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote earlier this month moved his nomination to the Senate floor – and doing so because of widespread and bipartisan pushback from legal professionals and advocates.

    For example a letter from Supreme Court Bar attorneys of differing political persuasions exposed as wobbly the opponents’ arguments against Adegbile’s nomination. The group’s letter also highlighted the importance of ensuring constitutional due process in capital punishment cases. (Some Missouri state attorneys prosecuting death penalty cases would do well to read the letter for that reason alone.)

    The Supreme Court Bar’s lawyers noted that all the “federal courts reviewing Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case ruled, repeatedly and unanimously, that he was entitled to a new death sentencing hearing free of constitutional error.” Subsequently Abu-Jamal was resentenced to life in prison without chance for parole.

    But Adegbile’s leadership at LDF, where he also defended before the Supreme Court the Voting Rights Act, should not disqualify him from serving an important leadership role in the DOJ, the Supreme Court lawyers noted. “It is well-established that even the most unpopular defendant requires such representation, particularly when he or she is facing capital punishment.”

  • January 11, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Hardly surprising, but another Alabama official is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate an integral provision of the Voting Rights Act. Efforts to suppress the votes of minorities no longer exist, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange argues in a brief lodged with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral argument on Feb. 27 in a case challenging provisions of the landmark civil rights law, including its primary enforcement provision, Section 5.

    The attorney general concedes in his brief that the state still “grapples with race relations issues, but they are the same kind of issues every state currently is endeavoring to solve,” reports Mary Orndorff Troyan for the Montgomery Advertiser.

    Strange’s brief is filed in support of a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala., “a conservative, mostly white county south of Birmingham,” as Troyan describes it. In Shelby County v. Holder, the officials argue that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because it covers some but not all states. Section 5 requires all or parts of 16 states to obtain “preclearance” of proposed changes to voting procedures from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. Section 5 of the law was intended to ensure that states and localities and with long histories of suppressing the vote of minorities do not create discriminatory voting procedures.

    The NAACP LDF, which has intervened in the case to represent voters, argues that Section 5 remains central to the Voting Rights Act because it works to block discrimination before it occurs. LDF and other civil rights organizations have noted that the Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that Section 5 is constitutional and that in 2006 Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act. Congress, in reauthorizing the law, created a record “consisting of 15,000 pages of evidence” supporting the ongoing need for a strong enforcement provision.

  • October 28, 2011

    With the Senate convening only for pro forma sessions this week, neither the full Senate nor the Senate Judiciary Committee officially met to discuss judicial nominations.

    However, this did not stop Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) from revealing this week that he has privately warned his Republican colleagues not to block President Obama’s nominees, for fear that Democrats will reciprocate during a Republican presidency, Roll Call reports. “[T]he president deserves to have his nominee unless there is a compelling reason not to,” McCain said.

    This Monday, the Senate will vote on the president’s nomination of Stephen A. Higginson to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit. Higginson was nominated in May and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted him out in July unopposed by a voice vote. The seat for which he has been nominated has been vacant since September of last year.

  • September 20, 2010
    Recent Supreme Court decisions have made it more difficult for a growing number of people to access the courts, two civil liberties attorneys write in a new ACS Issue Brief.

    Joshua Civin, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., (LDF) and Debo P. Adegbile, associate director-counsel and director of litigation at LDF, write that the high court has "skewed the balance away from access to the courts by elevating the threshold standard that all plaintiffs must meet to pursue legal claims. The two cases [Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal], have "without clear necessity overturned well-settled law and imposed a more stringent standard for federal cases to survive," they maintain.

    In "Restoring Access to Justice: The Impact of Iqbal and Twombly on Federal Civil Rights Litigation," Civin and Adegbile explain that when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were created in 1938, "they transformed civil litigation by establishing a liberal standard for what plaintiffs must plead in their complaints to initiate a federal lawsuit to withstand a motion dismiss." Specifically the federal rules merely required that plaintiffs lodge a "short and plain" statement about why they are entitled to relief.

    But with Twombly and Iqbal the high court, the authors state, has "usurped by judicial fiat the deliberative and inclusive process that Congress has established ...."

    The Twombly case applied specifically to antitrust laws, but in the 5-4 Iqbal opinion, the majority expanded the more stringent pleading standards to all civil cases. Writing for the narrow majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiffs must provide much more specific factual information, and that a court can "draw on its judicial experience and common sense," in determining whether to dismiss a lawsuit, the authors write.

    "The new emphasis on factual specificity is especially onerous for civil rights plaintiffs," Civin and Adegbile say. "In many civil rights cases, most, if not all, pertinent information is within the exclusive province of the defendant - through its agents, employees, records, and documents. For instance, when a plaintiff alleges she was the victim of a discriminatory practice, she typically must expose the defendant's ‘private, behind-closed-doors-conduct,' including ‘particular meetings and conversations, which individuals were involved, when and where meetings occurred, what was discussed, and, ultimately, who knew what, when, and why.'"

    The authors urge Congress to pass legislation to return the pleading standards to those used for five decades and required courts "to view allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff."

    Lawmakers in Congress have introduced a bill, the "Notice and Pleading Restoration Act," which is intended to require federal courts to follow traditional civil procedure rules for filing lawsuits.

    For more on Iqbal and Twmobly, see video of an ACS symposium on the decisions and ACSblog guest post from Vermont law school professor Anthony F. Renzo.