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LETTER: Sens. Heitkamp, Hoeven send shameful message

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GRAND FORKS — On Wednesday, the Senate moved for a cloture vote in the nomination of Debo Adegbile, President Barack Obama’s choice to run the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

Predictably, all Republicans voted no. Unfortunately, so did seven Democrats — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., among them.

The reason presented for this was that, while working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Adegbile helped write an appellate brief for a man named Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer named Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death. Because there was evidence that racial bias was involved in the conviction and sentencing, Adegbile helped to advocate against Abu-Jamal’s execution.

Not only was Adegbile simply doing his job, the argument was found to have merit, and Adegbile’s sentence was commuted. Abu-Jamal now serves life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Herald readers can look into this and make their own decisions as to whether the question of Abu-Jamal’s guilt remains unsettled. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Adegbile was extremely qualified, and his nomination was blocked because he did what he was supposed to do: advocate for his client’s rights.

But the message that Heitkamp and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., have sent is that any attorney who advocates for a person’s rights, also is advocating what that person has done or has been accused of doing.

Our senators have sent the message that if people have political and career aspirations, they should not go into public service, civil rights practice or criminal defense work — because if their client is found guilty, they will be guilty by association.

The real reason Republicans did not want Adegbile nominated was because of his work on voting rights. Ironically, just hours after her vote, Heitkamp sent an email about how voting rights are under attack.

You were used, Sen. Heitkamp. Not only were you used, you sent a shameful message to all current and future attorneys and the public at large.

As North Dakota’s former attorney general, Heitkamp should know better.

Olsen is a law student at the UND School of Law.

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