In a surprising turn of events, the Democrat-controlled Senate on Wednesday voted 52-47 to reject President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

In this April 29, 2009 file photo Debo Adegbile, then an attorney with the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP)

Known best for the role he played in the legal defense of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, Debo Adegbile will also be known as the first Obama nominee to go down in the Senate even after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) passed the so-called nuclear option that makes it possible to confirm judicial and executive nominations by a majority vote.

In a furious statement after the vote, Obama called the outcome a “travesty” and said Adegbile had been the victim of “wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

“Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked,” Obama said. “His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now.

“And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules,” Obama continued. “The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant,” the president’s statement said.

Not a single Republican senator voted “yea” on the motion to invoke cloture and move Adegbile’s nomination forward. They were joined by seven Democratic senators, including Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.V), John Walsh (Mt.), Joe Donnelly (In.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Chris Coons (Del.).

Coons, Pryor and Walsh are all up for re-election this year.

Reid switched his vote from “yea” to “nay” when it appeared that the cloture vote would fail, presumably so he can bring the nomination back up at a later date.

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