Pat Toomey: Civil Rights Nominee Made 'Mockery' Of Criminal Justice System

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) kicked off his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference by recounting the story of the 33-year-old murder of a Philadelphia police officer. Toomey offered the account as part of a justification for his campaign against a highly respected civil rights lawyer who represented the officer's convicted murderer years after his sentencing.

Republicans, joined by seven Democrats, blocked Debo Adegbile from being confirmed to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division on Wednesday, citing his representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Toomey insisted during his speech on Thursday that he doesn't oppose lawyers who represent unpopular defendants.

"This was always about the principle that no one should be able to make a mockery of our criminal justice system, fan the flames of racial strife in America, join a dishonest, international, anti-American campaign ... and then be confirmed to a high post in the Justice Department," Toomey said.

The campaign against Adegbile has rocked the legal community, with members of both parties condemning the attacks on a well-qualified lawyer because of clients he represented.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on Wednesday night that the opposition to Adegbile's nomination has marked the lowest point of his time in the Senate. He pointed out that current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts worked pro bono on behalf of a man who was convicted and executed for killing eight people in Florida, but that didn't stop Republicans from confirming him.

If Adegbile was white, Harkin suggested, he would have been confirmed.