At few points in our generation does Congress seem poised to vote on something so colossally consequential for the wellbeing of people of color. The nomination of Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (R-Ala.) as United States attorney general presents U.S. senators with one such decision. The question is, will they step forward on climate priorities and racial equity, or will they dangerously turn their back on the progress our country has made?
With Sessions as attorney general, communities of color stand to lose significantly. Charged with enforcing civil rights laws, the Department of Justice has historically played an important role in bringing us closer to an inclusive democracy.
Whether it was filing lawsuits to end segregation, protecting organizers during the civil rights movement, fighting housing and voting discrimination or challenging discriminatory policing policies, the Department of Justice has responded to the racial justice movement over decades, helping secure protections.
Under Sessions’ leadership, immigrant families will be criminalized and police reform efforts will stop dead in their tracks, among other things. Even worse, a Sessions’ Department of Justice will probably do affirmative damage on civil rights. Further, Sessions will hurt communities of color, who are hard hit by environmental racism by eviscerating enforcement of fundamental environmental laws.
Wrapped in racial injustice, environmental abuses have harmed people of color across the country — in communities ranging from Flint, Michigan to Mossville, Louisiana. The climate change-induced flooding and oil spill pollution in the Gulf Coast have disproportionately harmed people of color and low-income communities.
Legal enforcement of governmental responsibility is often the last and only recourse in these cases. Weakening enforcement tools would be disastrous to the progress communities of color have made.
As a senator for the state of Alabama, Sessions voted against environmental protection 93 percent of the time. In 2015, Sessions said that carbon dioxide is only “a plant food and it doesn’t harm anybody.” This shows a pattern of refusing to connect scientific cause-and-effect, which makes him unfit to set polluter prosecution priorities.
Sessions would also choose a next head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice, who will have the power to weaken consequences against those who violate the nation's civil and criminal pollution control laws. They could refuse to defend EPA and other agencies against corporations. That puts environmental programs at risk to fossil fuel interests who are pursuing ongoing legal fights over public lands and waters for Native American sovereignty. This will embolden polluters to be even more litigious to undermine environmental justice.
A look at Sessions’ record on voting rights, immigration, racial justice and civil liberties reveals not just a disregard for communities of color but he is an enemy of progress. As an attorney in Alabama, Sessions went on a witch hunt to persecute civil servants who were registering voters in historically Black counties under allegations of voter fraud that were quickly rejected by a jury. Sessions has called the Voting Rights Act, an anti-discrimination law that guarantees free and fair elections, “a piece of intrusive legislation,” a view held by supporters of Jim Crow.
Voting is the most fundamental way that communities empower themselves against polluters and the politicians that support them.
When Sessions was vetted in 1986, during a confirmation hearing to be appointed a federal judge, his history on race led to a rejection of his ways by a Republican-controlled Senate. Yet time has not improved the senator’s record, and now the 2017 Republican-controlled Congress is positioning itself to overlook it.
As recently as last summer, the courts forcefully went on record decrying rampant attempts to make it harder for people of color to vote. As the attorney general in charge of setting guidelines for which cases can and cannot be brought to court, Sessions poses a danger to voters of color as well as every American who is not white, male, straight and citizen-born. Sessions’ clear prejudices and racism make him willfully blind to some of the most pressing civil rights abuses and environmental injustices in our country.
With the stakes too high to let Sessions run unchecked with the Trump administration’s racist agenda, the choice before the Senate is clear. We cannot trust Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to serve as the top enforcer of our constitution and our laws. Senators must stand definitively on the right side of history. Our people and our planet depend on it.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.