The Senate has blocked the contentious nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The vote was 47-52.
The vote was expected to be so close that Vice President Joe Biden presided in the Senate chamber, available to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed.
Opposition to Adegbile’s nomination stemmed from his role in the representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Adegbile worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when the group filed an amicus brief that argued Abu-Jamal’s sentence should be ruled invalid because of racial bias in the jury. The defense fund also worked to overturn Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.
Police groups had urged the Senate to block Adegbile’s nomination.
Eight Democrats joined Republicans to vote no.
In a statement, President Barack Obama called the nomination's failure "a travesty."
"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," he said.