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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/16/17

Smooth-Talking Jeff Sessions Can't Hide Disturbing Record

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Senator Jeff Sessions speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC on October 7, 2011 (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)
Senator Jeff Sessions speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC on October 7, 2011 (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)
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Although Jeff Sessions' confirmation as attorney general of the United States by the GOP-controlled Senate is a foregone conclusion, it is still important to analyze his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Thus far, the hearing has shed a troubling light on his positions.

In his responses to the senators' questions, Sessions loudly protested the idea that he has ever embraced racism, homophobia or sexism. Calling allegations of racism "incredibly painful," Sessions assured the senators, "I abhor the Klan and all it represents." However, that has not always been the case. He once joked that he thought the KKK was "OK until I found out that they smoked pot."

Sessions' record speaks louder than his testimony.

Sessions' Racism and Opposition to Voting Rights

When Trump announced his nomination of Sessions for attorney general, David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeted his support.

Sessions is notorious for calling a Black attorney "boy" and prosecuting three civil rights organizers, including a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., for voter fraud in 1985. The bogus prosecution of the "Marion Three" was designed to discourage voting rights for poor and elderly people in several "black belt" Alabama counties. The three were acquitted by a jury after just three hours of deliberation. Their charges could have garnered them 100 years in prison.

The Marion Three case and other examples of Sessions' racism figured prominently in the refusal of the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm Ronald Reagan's nomination of Sessions for federal district court judge in 1986.

After Sessions testified Tuesday, The New York Times editorial board wrote:

"[Sessions'] defense against charges of racism that caused the Senate to reject him for a federal judgeship in 1986 was largely to say it hurt his feelings to be called a racist, but his two decades in the Senate provide little hope that he has changed."

During his testimony, Sessions admitted he had called the Voting Rights Act "intrusive." In 2013, after the Supreme Court issued a decision in Shelby County v. Holder, that struck down the section of the act that established a formula for preclearance of jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination, Sessions called it "a good day for the South."

NAACP president Cornell Brooks testified at Sessions' hearing that the Voting Rights Act "is regarded as the crown jewel of civil rights." Since the Shelby decision, Brooks added, "we've seen nothing less than a Machiavellian frenzy of voter disenfranchisement from one end of the country to the other."

Brooks noted that violations of the act are litigated after they occur, citing the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that North Carolina had "targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision."

Sessions is a strong supporter of voter ID laws that disenfranchise many otherwise eligible voters. When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) asked, "Do you agree with Trump that millions of fraudulent votes were cast?" Sessions replied, "I do believe we regularly have fraud." But, as Franken correctly noted, "Bogus claims of voter fraud are routinely used to uphold voter suppression."

As President Barack Obama said in his farewell address to the nation, "We should be making it easier, not harder, to vote."

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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