Should a lawyer be disqualified from public service for representing a client like a cop killer? The question arises after the Senate rejected President Barack Obama’s candidate to be the government’s chief civil rights attorney.

The White House, attorneys and civil rights groups argued that a bipartisan vote Wednesday blocking Debo Adegbile from advancing toward confirmation set a troubling precedent that could dissuade lawyers with aspirations to serve in government from taking on unpopular clients or working for unpopular causes.

“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,” Obama, a lawyer himself, argued after the final vote.

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