Equal Opportunity Offender

Senator Sessions’ consistent opposition to civil rights makes him wrong for Justice.

As confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions begin today, some Senators may be tempted to dismiss objections to his elevation as a smear campaign based on ancient history.  But, when it comes to  Sen. Sessions,  the past is prologue.  Sessions is the wrong person to be the nation’s  top law enforcer. 

Sessions is a former U.S. Attorney and the first Senator to support Mr. Trump. Given his background, one might have expected Mr. Sessions to advise the candidate that his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US was unconstitutional.  Instead, Sessions insists that Trump merely wants to “slow down immigration” from places with a proven history of terror against the US — even though the President-elect has reiterated that “you know my plans,” suggesting that last month’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market only buttressed his proposal.

Senator Sessions also could have demonstrated his commitment to the rule of law after Trump’s comments about grabbing women by their genitalia became public.  But here, too, he failed.  When first asked to comment, Sessions observed that the language was “very improper,” but, hey, Trump already had apologized.  When questioned about whether, if true, Trump’s conduct would constitute sexual assault, Sessions faltered:
“I don’t characterize that as sexual assault.  I think that’s a stretch.”  He later issued a clarification stating that his hesitation was based on the reporter’s hypothetical and added that it was  “crystal clear that assault is unacceptable.  I would never intentionally suggest otherwise.”

To call Sessions’ response tepid would be generous.  He couldn’t even bring himself to use the phrase “sexual assault,” essentially supporting Trump’s efforts to dismiss the comments are “locker room” banter.  If Sessions can’t even stand up when his candidate blatantly speaks in terms at odds with our founding charter and federal statutes, how can we expect him to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws?   After all, it’s not as if Sessions is unfamiliar with what the job entails.

When he opposed Loretta Lynch, the first Black woman to be named Attorney General, Sessions explained on Breitbart.com that “we need someone at the Department of Justice who will restore fidelity to our national laws…No Senator should vote confirm anyone to this position. . .  who does not pledge to serve the laws and people of the United States.”

But when Sessions had the power of chief law enforcement officer of Alabama, he used it to prosecute Black people seeking to vindicate their rights under the Voting Rights.  As I’ve written before, his effort was unsuccessful, but the resources and intimidation brought to bear against these defendants in state that continues to suppress the Black vote is shameful and telling.  Sessions’ supporters note that he also prosecuted the Klan in a lynching case; however, the Atlantic reports that he initially opposed pursuing the case and that he has exaggerated his role in the prosecution.

Sessions has been equally hostile to LGBT rights.

Here’s Sen. Sessions’ comment on the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that the constitutional right to marry extends to same sex couples:  “Today’s ruling is part of a continuing effort to secularize, by force and intimidation, a society that would not exist but for the faith which inspired people to sail across unknown waters and trek across unknown frontiers.”  He also supported a measure that would allow discrimination against such couples based on religious beliefs, and sought to prevent an LGBT organization from holding a conference at the University of Alabama, a public institution.

Senator Sessions consistently has trampled on groups that depend on robust enforcement of civil rights laws.  Worse, he’s used his considerable influence to limit their full participation in society.  He’s not fit to head the Department of Justice.

 

 

 

Author: Verna L. Williams

Interim Dean, Nippert Professor of Law, co-founder and co-director of Cincinnati Law's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Professor Williams joined Cincinnati Law's faculty in 2001. She teaches Constitutional Law; Gender and the Law; and Family Law. Her research examines the intersection of race and gender in law and society.

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