Three decades ago, a Republican-led Senate found Senator Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsHouse panel refers Clinton server company for prosecution Sessions to keep up fight on sanctuary cities despite legal setback Suspended Alabama judge running for Senate MORE unfit to serve as a federal judge. Today, senators must join in bipartisan conscience again to reject his nomination, this time as the nation’s top lawyer and civil rights enforcer.
President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: I was 'psyched to terminate' NAFTA Trump: 'Major, major' conflict with North Korea possible Cohn: People 'wasting time' calling for Trump's tax returns MORE’s intention to nominate Sen. Sessions as U.S. Attorney General in a time of heightened national focus on violence and injustice against communities of color is incendiary. In the first few hours after news of his proposed nomination broke, a flood of condemnations came from organizations representing civil rights, women's rights, worker's rights, and environmental protection.
Consider that a Senate committee voted 10-8 in 1986 to reject President Reagan’s judicial nominee and find Sessions the wrong man to swear to “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform” judicial duties. The extraordinary vote came after testimony from attorneys in Reagan’s own Justice Department, of all places, about outright racist statements by Sessions.
He was accused of calling a white lawyer “a disgrace to his race” for representing black people and of referring to the American Civil Liberties Union and N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.” According to a back prosecutor, Sessions called him “boy” and joked of thinking the Ku Klux Klan “was O.K. until I found out they smoked pot.”
There were accusations of a racial motivation to Sessions’ unsuccessful prosecution of Albert Turner, a field secretary for the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and two others in a voting fraud case. A jury in Selma acquitted all three defendants after fewer than three hours of deliberation.
Sessions gave a mixture of denials and non-denials about his inflammatory words. He failed to win the confidence of a majority of Judiciary Committee senators then, and the stains on his record are deep and permanent.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Sessions’ 20-year-record as a senator from Alabama hasn’t altered the bottom line that he’s unqualified to be attorney general.
Sessions praised the day when the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key section of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act, a signature achievement of the civil rights movement. He stunningly said that “if you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren't being denied the vote because of the color of their skin." He rated a score of zero percent on civil rights issues for the most recent Congress from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Sessions has pushed to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border and has been a staunch leader in fighting immigration reform, winning among his allies Donald Trump. He voted against a Senate resolution saying the United States must not block people from entering this country due to their religion.
Alarmingly, he also voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which ultimately passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
An adamant foe of same-sex marriage, Sessions erupted when the Supreme Court voted to legalize it nationwide. “It is not an act of courage but supreme arrogance to pretend that the wisdom of five judges is greater than all the men and women who have voted upon this issue in the 50 states, and the men and women whose convictions have defined the course of western civilization,” he wrote.
He opposed President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, who went on to become the first African-American woman to hold that office. He also opposed Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, and as attorney general, would have a big hand in vetting who Trump picks for it. With his influence, a Trump-era court could erode or reverse Americans’ constitutional rights for a generation or more.
For all these reasons and more, we urge senators to pause, reflect on the record, and reject this nomination for the country’s top lawyer. Don’t deepen the growing chasm in our country. Don’t inflame the fury.
In his presidential victory speech, Trump saluted the “forgotten men and women of our country,” and said they “will be forgotten no longer.” If we choose to sharpen our memory as a nation, we are behooved not to forget or forgive the record of Jeff Sessions. It is unpardonable.
Nan Aron is the president of the Alliance for Justice.
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