As we watch how the Donald Trump White House will take shape, its important to note the details of who his appointees will be. All of the people he’s aligned himself with have been, expectedly, conservative Republicans.
Some are moderates like Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chair who will serve as chief of staff. Others are textbook definitions of the alt right like Steve Bannon, the ex-Breitbart.com head who left to help with Trump’s campaign and will now be his chief strategist.
But President-elect Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been cause for alarm, particularly with civil rights groups because of his track record on issues concerning them. On Friday, Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen criticized the selection strongly.
“…We cannot support his nomination to be the country’s next attorney general. Senator Sessions not only has been a leading opponent of sensible, comprehensive immigration reform, he has associated with anti-immigrant groups we consider to be deeply racist, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Security Policy. If our country is to move forward, we must put all forms of racism behind us,” Cohen said in a statement.
People who object to Sessions’ assuming the Justice Department’s top job have good reason. Here are five of them:
1. He was considered by legislators to be too racist to be a federal judge. In 1985, Sessions, then a U.S. Attorney, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be a U.S. District Court judge but he was rejected the next year by the Senate Judiciary Committee for alleged racist biases in several cases. At the time Sen. Ted Kennedy said it was “inconceivable … that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a United States federal judge.”
2. His behavior with civil rights activists is one of the reasons they felt this way. A year before Reagan nominated him, Sessions tried to prosecute three civil rights workers, Albert Turner, his wife Evelyn and Spencer Hogue for voter fraud, simply because they were working on behalf of Black voters in counties where Black political power had gained. His case was unsuccessful, though because they were acquitted within hours of the case going to the jury. Lani Guinier outlines the case in her book, Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback Into a New Vision of Social Justice.
3. At least one past remark makes him look like a Joseph McCarthy mini-me. J Gerald Hebert, a Justice Department attorney, testified during Sessions’ senate hearings on the judgeship confirmation that during a conversation between the two, Sessions called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” He said that Sessions felt the two groups “forced civil rights” down people’s throats. But he denied any allegations of racism in the hearings.
4. He has been consistent in his opposition to civil rights legislation. Through his career in the Senate, Sessions has received grades of “F” from the NAACP. In one case, he helped to champion a bill that attacked affirmative action programs in the federal government, which was ultimately defeated, according to New Republic. He has also been an opponent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and during his confirmation hearings called it “an intrusive piece of legislation.”
5. For that reason, he is a lethal threat to the Voting Rights Act. Sessions believes that Section Five of the VRA, which focuses on a few Southern states with poor records of protecting voting rights should be eliminated. As Attorney General, he would be in charge of the Department of Justice and would make decisions on the enforcement of laws concerning voting rights.”Today is not 1965, and the situation with respect to voting rights in Alabama and other covered jurisdictions is dramatically different from 1965,” Sessions said in a 2006 Senate floor statement regarding the section and the passage of H.R. 9, which reauthorized the VRA.