January 10, 2017

Deciphering Jeff Sessions

Sam Smith - I woke up this morning wondering when was the last time anyone had named an attorney general as bad as Jeff Sessions. Thanks to Wikipedia, the best answers I could come up with were  John Mitchell in the 1970s and William Watt Gregory a century ago. Even before the civil rights movement, presidents avoided AGs reflective of racism in the South. Since the Civil War, less than 20% of the AGs have come from the south these have tended to be different than what you might expect.

Today the language has changed, but if one has lived in that South one can still recognize when the code language and actions survive. People forget that Washington was once part of the South. As a child in DC I went to a segregated public elementary school. My parents built a house on a trash dump in Georgetown so they wouldn't have to sign an ethnically restrictive covenant. When I returned to DC as a reporter after college, its schools had only been desegregated for six years and white cops were still allowed not to share their patrol cars with black officers. You live through a time like this and you learn that overt language tells only part of the story and often can be misleading.

The code language and action are clearly there with Jeff Sessions, putting a polite cover on a badly directed heart. If he is named Attorney General it will be one of the great retreats in modern American progress.

Wikipedia - At Sessions' confirmation hearings [for a judgeship] before the Senate Judiciary Committee, four Department of Justice lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he made racially offensive remarks. One of those lawyers, J. Gerald Hebert, testified that Sessions had referred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as "un-American" and "Communist-inspired" (Sessions said he was referring to their support of the Sandinistas) and that they did more harm than good by trying to force civil rights "down the throats of people." Hebert, a civil rights lawyer, said that he did not consider Sessions a racist, and that Sessions "has a tendency sometimes to just say something, and I believe these comments were along that vein." Hebert also said that Sessions had called a white civil rights attorney "maybe" a "disgrace to his race." Sessions said he did not recall making that remark and he did not believe it.

Thomas Figures, a black Assistant U.S. Attorney, testified that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was "OK until I found out they smoked pot." Sessions later said that the comment was not serious, but did apologize for it, saying that he considered the Klan to be "a force for hatred and bigotry." Barry Kowalski, a prosecutor in the civil rights division, also heard the remark and testified that prosecutors working such a gruesome case sometimes “resort to operating room humor and that is what I considered it to be.” Another DOJ lawyer, Albert Glenn, said, “It never occurred to me that there was any seriousness to it.” Figures also testified that on one occasion, when the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent the office instructions to investigate a case that Sessions had tried to close, Figures and Sessions "had a very spirited discussion regarding how the Hodge case should then be handled; in the course of that argument, Mr. Sessions threw the file on a table, and remarked, 'I wish I could decline on all of them,'" by which Figures said Sessions meant civil rights cases generally. Kowalski, however, testified that he believed “[Sessions] was eager to see that justice was done in the area of criminal civil rights prosecutions.”

Figures also said that Sessions had called him "boy," which Sessions denied. ... He also testified that "Mr. Sessions admonished me to 'be careful what you say to white folks.'" In 1992, Figures was charged with attemptin to bribe a witness by offering $50,000 to a convicted drug dealer who was to testify against his client. Figures claimed the charge was retaliation for his role in blocking the Sessions nomination. Sessions denied this, saying that he recused himself from the case. Figures was ultimately acquitted.

Hebert, Kowalski and Daniel Bell, deputy chief of the criminal section in the Civil Rights Division, testified that they considered Sessions to have been more welcoming to the work of the Civil Rights Division than many other Southern US Attorneys at the time.[23][26] Sessions has always defended his civil rights record, saying that "when I was [a U.S. Attorney], I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies."

On June 5, 1986, the Committee voted 10–8 against recommending the nomination to the Senate floor, with Republican Senators Charles Mathias of Maryland and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voting with the Democrats. It then split 9–9 on a vote to send Sessions' nomination to the Senate floor with no recommendation, this time with Specter in support. A majority was required for the nomination to proceed. The pivotal votes against Sessions came from his home state's Democratic Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama. Although Heflin had previously backed Sessions, he began to oppose Sessions after hearing testimony, concluding that there were "reasonable doubts" over Sessions' ability to be "fair and impartial." The nomination was withdrawn on July 31, 1986.

Sessions became only the second nominee to the federal judiciary in 48 years whose nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee...

Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in November 1994, unseating incumbent Democrat Jimmy Evans with 57% of the vote. The harsh criticism he had received from Senator Edward Kennedy, who called him a "throw-back to a shameful era" and a "disgrace," was considered to have won him the support of Alabama conservatives. As Attorney-General, Sessions led the state's defense of a schools funding model ultimately found unconstitutional because of disparities between rich, mostly white, and poor, mostly black, schools.

In 1996, Sessions won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, after a runoff, and then defeated Democrat Roger Bedford 53%–46% in the November general election...  That same year, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance sued the state of Alabama after the Alabama Legislature attempted to deny funding to student organizations that advocated on behalf of homosexuality at public universities. As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions defended the state, arguing that funding should not be provided to student groups that advocated unlawful behavior, including the breaking of sodomy and sexual misconduct laws. ... The U.S. District court ruled against the state law as a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution in Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance v. Sessions,

President-elect Trump announced on November 18, 2016, that he plans to nominate Sessions to be Attorney General of the United States.[52] The nomination has engendered opposition, as for example in a letter from more than 1,100 law school professors urging the Senate to reject the nomination.[53] Political positions U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions addressing voters in 2011.

... Sessions has been the leading congressional opponent of illegal immigration and proponent of reducing legal immigration. He led the fight in the Senate against the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 and Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013...

....On October 5, 2005, Sessions was one of nine Senators who voted against a Senate amendment to a House bill that prohibited cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment of individuals in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government.[68]

... In 2013, Sessions sent a letter to National Endowment for the Humanities inquiring why the foundation funded projects that he deemed frivolous. He also criticized the foundation for distributing books related to Islam to hundreds of U.S. libraries, saying "Using taxpayer dollars to fund education program grant questions that are very indefinite or in an effort to seemingly use Federal funds on behalf of just one religion, does not on its face appear to be the appropriate means to establish confidence in the American people that NEH expenditures are wise."

... He has earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, the United States' largest LGBTQ advocacy group. He voted against the Matthew Shepard Act, which added acts of bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crimes law, commenting that it "has been said to cheapen the civil rights movement" Sessions "believes that a marriage is union between a man and a woman, and has routinely criticized the U.S. Supreme Court and activist lower courts when they try to judicially redefine marriage." Sessions voted in favor of advancing the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, a U.S. constitutional amendment which would have permanently restricted federal recognition of marriages to those between a man and a woman.

... Sessions is against legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use. "I’m a big fan of the DEA," he said during a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions was "heartbroken" and found "it beyond comprehension" when President Obama claimed that cannabis is not as dangerous as alcohol.

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