Sessions’ hearing  offers master class in political obfuscation

President-Elect Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., went before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday for a hearing that would last more than eight hours.

What quickly became evident was the degree to which senators, regardless of party, are willing to pat each other on the back for whatever reason they can find. Despite  abundant evidence of Sen. Sessions’ disdain for civil rights, and repeated interruptions from the gallery demanding urgency on the subject, senators of both parties agreed: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is a “good man.”

Not all was flowery, thankfully, and some senators attempted to hold Sessions to task for his record. What they found out, however, was that ‘ol Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is as slippery as an Alabama catfish.

From the very beginning, Sessions used out-of-context facts to depict a United States where violent crime is on the rise.

He said, in spite of almost 30 years of a declining crime rate, “I am very concerned, however, that the recent jump in the violent crime and murder rates are not anomalies,” referring to FBI statistics indicating a slight uptick in violent crime in 2014.

One year’s uptick does not a trend make. However, it serves the narrative of a Donald Trump presidency that has defined itself against efforts to reform the criminal justice system led by groups like Black Lives Matter.

Furthermore, his opening remarks portrayed the image of someone capable of dispassionately enforcing the laws on the books despite his hard-earned reputation of speaking out passionately against some of them.

For example, on the issue of a woman’s right to choose enshrined by Row v. Wade, Jeff Sessions would like you to believe what he says when he said “it’s the law of the land, and I will enforce it,” but he has been a staunch anti-choice legislator, even going as far as to say that Row v. Wade was “colossally erroneous.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., was among the senators to grill him on the subject of women’s health. She said she was concerned about Sessions’ anti-choice record and how it could affect his tenure at the Department of Justice.

For example, the Domestic Trafficking Victims Fund is administered by the Department of Justice and is used to provide services for victims of human sex trafficking, including abortions. The fund is immune from the Hyde Amendment, which infamously bans federal funds from being used for abortion, but Sessions seemed less than convinced.

Perhaps the largest albatross around the neck of Sessions is his anti-civil rights and racist history about which no shortage of ink has been spilled.

In 1986 when Sessions was up for the job of federal judge, senators blocked him over concerns of racial bias stemming, among other things, from a prosecution he had taken up as Alabama’s attorney general against three African-American activists for alleged voter fraud.

Gerald Herbert, a lawyer who worked under Sessions in Alabama, testified at his judgeship hearing that Sessions called the NAACP and the ACLU “communist-inspired” and “un-American,” accusing them of forcing “civil rights down the throats of the people.”

Corretta Scott King, wife of the late Martin Luther King Jr., gave her testimony against Sessions in the same hearing saying, “It is my strongly-held view that the appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner, and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system.”

In a post-Voting Rights Act world, Sessions’ threat to civil rights has only grown larger.

And yet, through deft use of the phrases, “I haven’t done research on that topic” and “I will enforce the law,” combined with a Senate majority, it seems that Sessions will skate through his hearing.

The AFL-CIO has come out against the nomination of Jeff Sessions. President Richard Trumka said in a statement that “…Sen. Jeff Sessions, [Trump’s] nominee for Attorney General, has a history of racially charged comments and a record of crushing civil liberties, including the right to vote. He is the opposite of what the American people want in their chief legal officer.” SEIU also opposed Session’s nomination.

Representatives from the ACLU and NAACP, ever the thorn in his side, have spoken strongly against his record of racism.

The Sessions hearings continued today with witnesses being called to testify for and against his confirmation. Civil rights era activist and U.S. Rep.  John Lewis, D-Ga., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., will speak against his confirmation.


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.