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President Barack Obama‘s pick to lead the Department of Justice‘s civil rights division today failed a test vote in the Senate that could spell doom for his nomination. Debo Adegbile, who once represented polarizing convict Mumia Abu-Jamal several years ago, is now faced with uncertainty as a result of his past actions.

In an interesting shift in tone, seven Democrats sided with Senate Republicans in voting 47-52 in favor of blocking Adegbile’s potential confirmation to the Justice Department post. Adegbile, a son of an Irish mother and Nigerian father, and his supporters have spoken about the opposition he’s faced in obtaining the post although Wednesday’s procedural vote was rumored to go the other way.

Abu-Jamal, who was convicted killing a police officer in Philadelphia and sentenced to life without parole in the early 1980s, was represented by Adegbile when worked for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. The Los Angeles Times has more:

In the end, seven Democrats voted against advancing the nomination. It marked the first time an Obama nominee was blocked since the Senate changed its rules last year to prevent filibusters for most presidential nominations.

Civil rights advocates who backed Adegbile expressed outrage, suggesting that race may have played a factor.

“You hate to raise that up, but it smells very bad,” said Hilary Shelton of the NAACP.

Top party leaders of the Senate both voted against Adegbile, with Democrat majority leader Sen. Harry Reid changing his vote at the last minute which could give him the power to call a vote for Adegbile at a later time. Sen. Reid’s Republican counterpart, Sen. Lindsey Graham, says that his vote was not about race, but more so Adegbile’s past in assisting Abu-Jamal.

The NAACP LDF issued a statement regarding the vote earlier today. President Obama and the White House addressed the Senate’s vote against Adegbile, calling today’s events a “tragedy.”

Photo: Debo Adegbile/NAACP LDF