The American Right’s capacity for rolling back the clock on progress and retrieving hateful ideas and prejudices from the ash heap of history never ceases to amaze. Just when you thought the march of time and human progress had finally put nails in the coffins of any number of of regressive beliefs and practices, up pops the “Heil Trump” crowd, the KKK or, more immediately, the nomination of a possible U.S. Attorney General that all of these hateful creeps must be celebrating.
The person at issue, of course, is Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions — President-elect Donald Trump’s execrable nominee for A.G. For those who may have been shielding themselves from the hateful lunacy of people you might have reasonably dismissed as mere flotsam and jetsam from the racist fringe, you owe it yourself to familiarize yourself with this very troubled man and his frightening past. In the coming days, Sessions will go before Thom Tillis, Richard Burr and his other colleagues in the U.S. Senate — the same Senate that refused to consider the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland — to consider whether he is qualified to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
In response, an array of civil rights and civil liberties groups have been marshaling a campaign to oppose the nomination. One of the best summaries of the countless problems with the Sessions nomination comes from the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that as a matter of organizational policy doesn’t even take an official position on nominees. The ACLU’s detailed report is entitled “The Confirmation Sessions” and it ought to be required reading for all Americans who care about their country and its Constitution. Here is a brief summary:
More than thirty years ago, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, was in a similar situation as he will be on January 10 when he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing. Tapped by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship in 1986, Sessions sat before the very same committee for his previous confirmation hearing. Things did not go well.
Witnesses accused Sessions, then the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama, of repeatedly making racially insensitive and racist remarks. Thomas Figures — a former assistant U.S. attorney in Mobile, Alabama, who worked for Sessions — told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his former boss said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was okay until he learned members smoked pot. Sessions said the comment wasn’t serious. Figures, an African-American man, also alleged that Sessions called him “boy” and told him “to be careful what you say to white folks.” Sessions denied this, too.
But Figures wasn’t alone. Visiting Mobile, Alabama, from Washington, D.C., a Justice Department lawyer heard Sessions call the ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” He also heard Sessions opine that ACLU and the NAACP “did more harm than good when they were trying to force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.” Sessions said he didn’t recall saying that but admitted he could be “loose with my tongue” at the office. Not surprisingly, a civil rights coalition of over 160 groups and members of the Alabama Legislature separately opposed the Sessions’ nomination and asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote no on the young attorney from Hybart, Alabama. In a bipartisan vote, committee members refused to confirm Sessions, making him just the second judicial nominee in 49 years to be denied confirmation by the Senate Judiciary Committee at that time.
Sessions recovered well. In 1994, he was elected as Alabama’s attorney general. Two years later, the people of Alabama sent him to the U.S. Senate. He’s never lost a reelection campaign since, and now he’s poised to become the head of the Department of Justice. But the same concerns that doomed Sessions’ shot at becoming a federal judge three decades ago continue to stalk him today, only they have been made more troubling when you add Sessions’ Senate record to the mix.
The ACLU as a matter of long-standing policy does not support or oppose candidates for elected or appointed office. However, questions regarding police reform, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice reform, Muslims’ rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, women’s rights, privacy rights, torture, and abortion rights must be asked of and answered by Jeff Sessions if the Senate is to be discharged of its duty and if Americans are to be fully informed of how the nominee is to serve as the nation’s highest law enforcement officer. The attorney general must be an individual who will steadfastly enforce the U.S. Constitution and protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans equally.
Click here to check out the entire ACLU report.