President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be attorney general.
Sessions must first be confirmed by the Senate. The first time Sessions faced a Senate confirmation, it didn’t go so well for him. Nominated to a federal district judgeship in Alabama in 1986, Sessions was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee after multiple witnesses came forward to report his history of racist comments and hostility to civil rights groups.
Sessions was later elected attorney general of Alabama and then was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he eventually joined the Senate Judiciary Committee, the same body that had rejected his own judicial nomination. In the Senate, Sessions has continued to build a record of hostility toward civil rights and has become one of the most outspoken anti-immigrant voices in Congress.
Here are just 12 reasons why Sessions should not become the head of the Department of Justice:
- Racist Comments
When Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship, he faced reports from those he had worked with that he had accused a white civil rights attorney of being a “disgrace to his race”; told a black attorney to “be careful as to what you say to white folks”; said that he was fine with the Ku Klux Klan until he learned that some of them were “pot smokers”; and addressed a black lawyer in his office as “boy.”
Sessions denied some comments, and said that others, such as the KKK remark, were meant in jest.
Sessions noted in his defense, according to journalist Sarah Wildman, “that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.”
- Attacks on Civil Rights Groups
Another charge that Sessions faced in his judicial confirmation hearing was that he had called civil rights groups like the ACLU and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” In his confirmation hearing, Sessions said that such comments were “probably something I should not have said, but I really did not mean any harm by it.”
He added later, “I am loose with my tongue on occasion, and I may have said something similar to that or could be interpreted to that.”
Back in 2009, Rachel Maddow dug up some footage of Sessions’ non-denial denials:
Sessions continues to express disdain for civil rights and civil liberties groups. Back in 2010, he griped that President Obama was nominating too many judges with “ACLU DNA.”
- Civil Rights Witch Hunt
Another major issue in Sessions’ 1986 confirmation hearings was his work going after civil rights workers under the pretext of “voter fraud.” ThinkProgress summarized the case:
During his decade as a federal prosecutor in Alabama — a state with an dark history of racism and voter suppression — Sessions embarked on a witch hunt targeting civil rights workers who were registering elderly black voters and helping them get absentee ballots.
He unsuccessfully charged three organizers, including a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with so many counts of voter fraud that they would have served 100 year sentences if convicted. Focusing only on counties where black voting participation had surged following the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Sessions interrogated dozens of older African American voters, yet only turned up 14 suspect ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in 1984. The “Marion Three” were acquitted.
- Voting Rights Act Opposition
In his confirmation hearings, Sessions admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation.” After the Supreme Court struck down a key enforcement mechanism of the act in 2013, Sessions opposed efforts to update the law, saying that “the justification no longer exists” for putting special scrutiny on some states and counties with histories of voter suppression.
- Anti-Immigrant Extremism
Sessions has been a leading voice in Congress both against immigration reforms that include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and in favor of drastically reducing legal immigration, the ultimate goal of many anti-immigrant groups. As the Washington Post wrote:
Sessions has opposed nearly every immigration bill that has come before the Senate the past two decades that has included a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
He’s also fought legal immigration, including guest worker programs for illegal immigrants and visa programs for foreign workers in science, math and high-tech. In 2007, Sessions got a bill passed essentially banning for 10 years federal contractors who hire illegal immigrants.
Sessions has dismissed immigration reform as “ethnic politics” and warned that allowing too many immigrants would create “cultural problems” in the country. Earlier this year, he cherry-picked a couple of Bible verses to claim that the position of his opponents on the immigration issue is “not biblical.”
When Trump released a much-disparaged immigration policy paper shortly after launching his campaign on a wave of anti-immigrant insults, the paper had the Alabama senator’s fingerprints all over it. Trump consulted with Sessions about the plan, and in turn Sessions praised it as “exactly the plan America needs.”
- No Birthright Citizenship
Sessions has challenged the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S., something that he is joined in by Trump.
- Ties To Anti-Immigrant Groups
Sessions has worked closely in his anti-immigration efforts with the network of immigration restrictionist groups tied to white nationalist John Tanton. As we wrote in a recent report on these groups:
In 2007, after a bipartisan immigration reform plan fell apart, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a leading anti-immigration voice in the Senate, who is now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, spoke to a meeting of FAIR’s board of advisors and thanked them for helping to stir up opposition to the bill. In 2013, as Congress was considering another bipartisan immigration compromise, Sessions and three Republican House members joined a CIS teleconference to argue against it. Sessions, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the most outspoken anti-immigration member of the House, spoke at a rally organized by a front group of FAIR, and King joined NumbersUSA President Roy Beck on the road.
If Sessions were to be installed at the head of the Department of Justice, these groups would likely have a direct line to administration decision-makers.
- Was Open To Muslim Ban
When Trump proposed a blanket ban on all of the world’s Muslims from entering the United States, Sessions told Breitbart News that while Trump was “treading on dangerous ground,” it was “appropriate to begin to discuss” the issue:
“But,” he added, “at the same time, we’re in an age that’s very dangerous and we’re seeing more and more persons enter and a lot of them have done terrorist acts and a lot of them believe it’s commanded by their religion … So I think it’s appropriate to begin to discuss this, and he has forced that discussion. We may even have a discussion about it in Judiciary Committee today. But, you know, it’s time for us to think this through and the classical, internal American religious principles I don’t think apply providing constitutional protections to persons not citizens who want to come here.”
- Doesn’t Want Judges To Have A ‘Secular Mindset’
Discussing the importance of the Supreme Court in the presidential election earlier this year, Sessions accused Justice Sonia Sotomayor of having “a postmodern, relativistic, secular mindset”:
When the Senate was considering Sotomayor’s nomination in 2009, Sessions attacked her for her involvement with a Puerto Rican civil rights group.
- Said A Gay Supreme Court Nominee ‘Would Be A Big Concern That The American People Might Feel’
When the Supreme Court vacancy opened up in 2009, Sessions broke new ground for progress when he said that a “person who acknowledges that they have gay tendencies” wouldn’t be “disqualified per se for the job.” But not so fast: He then backtracked, saying that a gay nominee “would be a big concern that the American people might feel— might feel uneasy about that.” Sessions later clarified that he would, in fact, be willing to vote for a gay nominee.
- LGBT Rights Opposition
Sessions has been a staunch opponent of LGBT rights, opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and saying that hate crimes protections for LGBT people “cheapen the civil rights movement.” In 2006, Sessions voted to advance a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. After the Supreme Court extended marriage equality nationwide, Sessions said that gay people could already get unofficially married:
“People could get married before the Supreme Court ruling, two people could call themselves married” he explained, saying that same-sex couples could “go off at the beach and have flowers and play rock music” in a symbolic, but not legally recognized, ceremony.
In the same speech, Sessions warned that in this “period of secularization in America” people “who follow biblical directives” are under attack.
- Climate Change Denial
Sessions is a climate change skeptic, claiming that CO2 is “really not a pollutant” because it’s “plant food” and insisting that the U.S. hasn’t faced a “major hurricane” since Katrina.