WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will nominate a former NAACP Legal Defense Fund official to take over the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the White House announced Thursday.
Debo Adegbile, who now serves as senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, has held several positions at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ranging from 2001 to earlier this year. He went before the Supreme Court back in February to defend Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a key provision that the courtultimately decided to strike down.
If confirmed, Adegbile would lead the division as it figures out how to protect voting rights without Section 4, which required certain parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their voting laws pre-cleared either by DOJ or in federal court. Former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, who now heads the Labor Department, said earlier this year that pre-clearance“regrettably, continues to be very necessary.”
But the Civil Rights Division’s work also extends far beyond voting rights, enforcing federal statutes that prohibit all different kinds of discrimination. Under Perez, the division put a particular emphasis on fair-lending cases and pattern-and-practice investigations of major police departments. Perez also oversaw implementation of a law banning hate crimes against gays and lesbians.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Obama’s selection of Adegbile.
“Debo Adegbile is an excellent choice to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice,” he said in a statement. “He will bring a wealth of experience and good judgment to this important office. Many of us on the Senate Judiciary Committee met Debo in 2006 when he testified before the Committee as an expert on voting rights. Debo has earned a reputation for working to bring members from both sides of the aisle together.”
Leahy said he “could think of no one more qualified or experienced than Debo” when he went about considering voting rights legislation earlier this year. “He is careful, he listens, and he understands the importance of building consensus,” Leahy said.
“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,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Debo has worked tirelessly to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equality for all Americans.”
Debo Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights litigators of his generation and a bipartisan consensus builder. His experience as the two-time defender of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court puts him in a class of his own when it comes to understanding the application and enforcement of complex civil rights issues. Add that to his stellar career over ten years at the nation’s leading civil rights law firm—the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund—as well as his work in the Senate and in the private sector, and it becomes clear that Adegbile’s skill set, talents, and experience make him the perfect choice to head the Civil Rights Division.Adegbile’s life mirrors that of the American Dream.
A son of immigrants from Ireland and Nigeria (father is Nigerian, Mother Irish), Adegbile grew up in poverty with periods of homelessness to work his way through law school and one day defend American democracy in the Supreme Court.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. Debo Adegbile is the right nominee to head the Civil Rights Division. We call on the Senate to swiftly confirm him.