President Obama’s Nov. 14 nomination of an African-American man to become the government’s top civil rights lawyer has been applauded by many in the Black and civil rights communities.
Debo P. Adegbile, who has served as senior counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee since July, is the nominee for the Department of Justice’s assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Adegbile is one of the premier civil rights attorneys and would serve admirably in the role if his nomination is approved by the U.S. Senate, said his former colleagues at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he worked since 2001.
“Debo has precisely the type of broad civil rights experience that is required at this pivotal moment in our country,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund, a separate entity from the NAACP, in a statement.
“Our country needs someone like Debo with significant experience in voting rights to protect the deeply held American value that each person has the right to a voice in our democracy. Debo has worked tirelessly to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equality for all Americans,” Ifill continued.
In his years-long tenure at the Legal Defense Fund, Adegbile served in various roles including as special counsel, acting president and director-counsel, associate director-counsel and director of litigation, associate director of litigation, and assistant counsel.
While there, he also made two appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder and Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder. He also represented evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in the first post-Katrina federal voting rights lawsuit.
Prior to joining the NAACP, he was an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison from 1994 to 2001. This is the same law firm that Jeh Johnson, recently appointed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was a partner.
“As we navigate the new Civil Rights-era, Debo offers precisely the type of leadership necessary,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said in a statement Nov. 15. “From reforming America’s criminal justice system to expanding equality for all Americans, Debo has the civil rights experience and expertise needed to head the Division. Debo’s integrity, professionalism and respectable reputation as a legal practitioner and litigator are evidence that he is the right person for this incredibly important role.”
“Members of the Congressional Black Caucus strongly support President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile and encourage our colleagues in the Senate to confirm him for this position without delay,” Fudge said.
The son of immigrants from Ireland and Nigeria, Adegbile’s success came after growing up in abject poverty, including periods of homelessness, in New York City. Through scholarships, loans, and the sweat of his brow, Adegbile worked his way through college and law school, eventually obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College and a law degree from New York University School of Law.
Peers say his upbringing has informed his commitment to defending and upholding the rights of the most vulnerable in our society.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said Adegbile is in “a class of his own when it comes to understanding the application and enforcement of complex civil rights issues.”
“Millions of Americans rely on the Civil Rights Division to enforce housing, education, and employment discrimination laws, hate crime laws, the Violence Against Women Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the core civil rights statutes that allow all of us to take part in the fullness of American life,” Henderson said in a statement.
“Adegbile’s skill set, talents, and experience make him the perfect choice to head the Civil Rights Division,” he added. “We call on the Senate to swiftly confirm him.”