Say “No” to Sen. Jeff Sessions

The Senate Judiciary Committee should reject Sen. Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General.

On Tuesday, January 31, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.   If the last few days show anything, it’s that Sessions is the wrong person for the job.

I’ve written previously about how, as the U.S. Attorney for Alabama, Sessions abused his authority to prosecute civil rights advocates seeking to register African American voters. This egregious action takes on even greater importance as President Trump is demanding a federal investigation  of unsubstantiated voter fraud and signed an executive order banning refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries (significantly, excluding nations in which Trump is doing business) from entering the US.

Thus far, executive power in Trump’s hands is a tool for settling scores about who really won the election and stoking fear and discord.  To date the legislative branch has stood by mutely, rather than providing a much needed check.  And, as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions will make matters worse.

During his hearings, Sessions claimed that he would shelve his personal views and enforce the laws, but it’s hard to take him seriously.  After all, he’s had twenty-one years in the Senate to consider the merits of protecting the rights of people of color and women, and he’s been a staunch opponent time and again.  Why should we expect anything different if he’s confirmed as AG.  Even more troubling, there’s nothing to suggest that Sessions will stand up to President Trump, who is certain to propose even more measures of questionable constitutionality.  After all, Sessions couldn’t even admit that Trump’s braggadocio captured on “Access Hollywood’s” audio for eternity referenced sexual assault.

Will Sessions rise to the challenge?  Consider some of the data points made available to members of the Judiciary Committee.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s report details some of the nominee’s high–or lowlights.  Among them:

  • In 2013, Sessions co-sponsored legislation that would allow states to require voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections, which would make voting more difficult, particularly for people of color. He has called the  Voting Rights Act “intrusive” and consistently voted against restoring key provisions of it.
  • Sessions and a small group of lawmakers on the extreme right torpedoed a  bipartisan, evidenced-based proposal for sentencing reform, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections.  In addition, despite strong evidence and growing consensus that the so-called war on drugs has been effective in all the wrong ways– specifically, the hyper-incarceration of black and brown people, Sessions continues to support it.
  • The Senator accused DOJ’s Civil Rights Division of having a political agenda for working toward police reform after uncovering system-wide wrongdoing in police departments in Baltimore, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, for example.
  • He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows workers to sue for equal pay violations when they learn about them.  Congress passed the Act after the Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to permit such suits only when filed within 180 of employers’ pay decisions, a requirement most litigants could never meet.

The National Women’s Law Center reports that Sessions has been equally hostile on issues of gender. For example,

  • He voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act of 2014.
  • He has called Roe v. Wade one of the worst, “colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time,” and repeatedly has opposed legislation necessary for women’s access to reproductive care.
  • Sessions supported a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as  being between one man and one woman.  In addition, he opposed protections for LGBT people, such as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal hate crimes legislation to include offenses based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among other things.

The Department of Justice’s mission includes “ensur[ing] fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”  I added the emphasis on “all” because if there ever were a need for an inclusive guarantee of justice, it’s now.

Senator Sessions is the wrong person for the job.  Contact your Senators and let them know how you feel:  202.224.3121.

 

 

 

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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