Serwer interviewed attorneys who worked on three of the four cases the Trump transition team used to support Sessions’s civil-rights record; all three said they did not recall Sessions playing a major role in any of the cases. And in interviews, those attorneys and former Justice Department officials and civil-right experts suggested it’s far more likely Sessions’s name appeared on any such cases out of standard practice to list the sitting U.S. attorney at the time. In fact, Serwer reports that it would be unusual for any desegregation case to be filed by a U.S. attorney rather than the civil rights division.
Serwer reports that searches of legal databases found no evidence that any new school-desegregation lawsuits were filed in Alabama’s Southern District by Sessions between 1981, when he became U.S. attorney in Alabama, and 1995, when he became Alabama attorney general, though it is possible that the records exist but are not in those databases. The Atlantic could find no reference to the claim in the transcripts of his 1986 confirmation hearing.
The Trump transition team offered The Atlantic a list of Sessions’s “top civil rights enforcement cases.” That list included 10 filings in four separate cases, three of them voting rights cases, and one in the ongoing Davis school desegregation case in 1986. But as Serwer reports, the record raises more questions than it answers. For example:
- The list states that Sessions "brought the first anti voter suppression lawsuit in the history of the Department of Justice," in the 1983 case U.S. v. Conecuh County, when "Sessions sued white Conecuh County election officials, including the Chair of the local Republican Party." Sessions is indeed listed on the filing. But John Tanner, a former Bush-era Justice Department appointee and main attorney on that case, said that while he discussed the case with Sessions, who seemed "interested" and "supportive," most of the work was done out of the civil rights division.
- Sessions is also listed on filings in the U.S. v. Dallas County Commission voting rights case, because it took place in his district. But Gerald Hebert, who was the lead civil rights division attorney on that case, said Sessions had little to do with the case itself. The case was a challenge to the county's at-large method of electing members to the county board of education, contending that it violated black voters' rights.