ND Senator Heidi Heitkamp Compares Obama Appointee Debo Adegbile To A Tobacco Lawyer


Senator Heidi Heitkamp is (finally) holding some in-person town halls here in North Dakota where her constituents can ask her questions. At a recent event held at the Schroeder Middle School in Grand Forks (full video here) Heitkmap was asked about her vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to head up the the Department of Justice’s civil rights decision.

Heitkamp was a no vote, and Adegbile’s nomination was defeated. What inspired many of the no votes was Adegbile’s legal work for cop killer and left-wing icon Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The defeat of Adegbile’s nomination infuriated the left. President Obama himself was reportedly furious, calling the vote a “travesty.”

Heitkamp’s answer to the town hall question in Grand Forks will probably ignore more fury among liberals as she suggested Adegbile’s nomination was the equivalent of appointing a tobacco industry lawyer to be legal counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I’m pretty sure that if George W. Bush had nominated someone  who had been chief counsel of Phillip Morris to be the chief counsel for HHS there might have been some discussion on the other side,” she said.

Heitkamp also suggested that Adegbile’s involvement with the Abu-Jamal case would be a distraction from his work at the DOJ. “I’m pretty sure that had he been nominated there would have been three years of discussions about the Jamal case…and not civil rights.”

“I disappointed a lot of friends, but I stand by my decision,” Heitkamp said of her vote.

Of course, disappointing President Obama and the liberal left is only likely to commend Heitkamp as a Senator to most North Dakota voters, but with her state political party thoroughly marginalized and dependent on out-of-state contributions from liberal interests, how much can she afford to tick off the national liberal base?

That’s a question I’ve explored previously.

Personally, I’m not sure Heitkamp made the right decision. While I doubt there’s much Mr. Adegbile and I would agree on politically, I tend to agree with this from MSNBC’s Ari Melber:

But, senator, you here are sending a dangerous message to our nation’s lawyers, and law students and future lawyers: don’t stand up for the constitutional right to counsel. Don’t work on these cases if someone says they’re controversial. Don’t help a poor defendant appeal a death sentence.

You’re encouraging a choice between upholding our Constitution and serving in government itself, when it is precisely the people who have taken hard cases to defend our Constitution that belong in government. But opposition to Adegbile’s nomination also runs deeper than his defense of Abu-Jamal. For some, it was about his work and LDF’s work against voting restrictions, like voter-ID and the elimination of early voting.

In general, though, America seems to be struggling with the difference between disapproving of controversial words and actions, and defending the right to do or say controversial things (case in point). I’m not talking about Abu-Jamal murdering cops, but rather the fact that he like every other American is entitled to a vigorous legal defense, and we ought not hold it against those who provide it.