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March 5 2014

Do We Need A More Felon-Friendly Justice Department?

Charlotte Hays

The senators from Pennsylvania, a Democrat and a Republican, have both stated that they will not vote to confirm Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s nominee to head up the Justice Department’s civil-rights division.

The impediment is not that Adegbile represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a policeman in cold blood (thus becoming a hero to MOVE, a racist, anarchist organization), as a lawyer. Everybody has a right to counsel in this country.

Mr. Adegbile’s advocacy of Mumia was different from providing representation, however. As Senator Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania’s Republican senator, explained in a co-authored article in the Wall Street Journal:

Under Mr. Adegbile's leadership and through rallies, protests and a media campaign, the [NAACP’s] Legal Defense Fund actively fanned the racial firestorm. In a news release issued when it took over as Abu-Jamal's counsel, the Legal Defense Fund proclaimed that Abu-Jamal was "a symbol of the racial injustices of the death penalty."

At a 2011 rally for Abu-Jamal, Mr. Adegbile's co-counsel on the case stated that "there is no question in the mind of anyone at the Legal Defense Fund" that [Abu-Jamal's conviction] "has everything to do with race and that is why the Legal Defense Fund is in the case."

(Mumia’s death sentence was voided because of a technicality, and he remains in prison.)

But Mumia isn’t the only felon for whom Mr. Adegbile advocates. His larger advocacy for felon power could have an enormous effect on employers who don’t want to hire those with prison records. Byron York writes:

[O]ne objection to the nomination has received little public notice, and it involves a quiet but growing controversy over the issue of criminal background checks.

It's not unusual for businesses to conduct a check before hiring new employees. If the check uncovers that the applicant has, say, a felony conviction in his past — well, that can put a quick end to the application process.

But Obama's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the use of background checks in hiring is racially discriminatory. In 2012, the EEOC issued "guidance" to the nation's businesses, citing statistics showing blacks and Hispanics are convicted of crimes at significantly higher rates than whites.

Therefore, the EEOC ruled, excluding job applicants based on their criminal records would have "a disparate impact based on race and national origin."

The EEOC did not say past felonies could never be considered in job applications. But the guidance made clear that an employer who chooses not to hire a felon could have to present a detailed defense to the EEOC.

At the moment, EEOC "guidance" does not have the force of law, no matter the threats from top EEOC officials. That's where Debo Adegbile comes in. When he was with the NAACP, Adegbile praised the commission's guidelines. Now, if he becomes the assistant attorney general for civil rights, he will have the power to pursue the same or similar policies.

If you’re one of those benighted employers who regards a criminal record as a sign that one has committed a serious infraction, you may be out of luck if Mr. Adegbile is confirmed to head up the civil-rights division of the Justice Department.  

Adegbile’s contention convicts are in prison because of society’s faults is a radical notion that should be rejected. They are sent to prison not because society has done something wrong but that they have done something wrong. If their transgression is serious enough to merit a conviction, then an employer has every right to take it into consideration.

Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the police officer killed in 1981 by Mumia, has spoken out against confirming Adegbile. The nomination is also opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police, but is supported by a letter fom the AFL-CIO, the National Center for Transgender Equality to the National Bar Association, and 73 other organizations.

Human Resources departments in businesses might have wanted to weigh in if Mr. Adegbile's advocacy of felon power had received more attention.    

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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