News about the Trump’s transition appointments is not good. He tapped retired General Michael Flynn for National Security Advisor; Flynn has conflicts of interest due to his connections with Turkey and Russia. Now he’s tapped Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; sessions was denied a judgeship by a Republican Senate years ago because of his racist record. The NY Times editorial board is not particularly kind to Trump’s AG pick, calling it “An Insult to Justice.”
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Jeff Sessions, then a United States attorney from Alabama, to be a federal judge. The Republican-controlled Senate rejected Mr. Sessions out of concern, based on devastating testimony by former colleagues, that he was a racist.
Three decades later, Mr. Sessions, now a veteran Alabama senator, is on the verge of becoming the nation’s top law-enforcement official, after President-elect Donald Trump tapped him on Friday to be attorney general.
It would be nice to report that Mr. Sessions, who is now 69, has conscientiously worked to dispel the shadows that cost him the judgeship. Instead, the years since his last confirmation hearing reveal a pattern of dogged animus to civil rights and the progress of black Americans and immigrants.
Based on his record, we can form a fairly clear picture of what his Justice Department would look like:
“forget about aggressive protection of civil rights, and of voting rights in particular”
“Forget, also, any federal criminal-justice reform, … he called for more mandatory-minimum sentences and harsher punishments for drug crimes.”
“But Mr. Sessions can do plenty of damage without any congressional action. As attorney general, he would set the guidelines prosecutors follow in deciding what cases and charges to bring”
“Mr. Sessions has been the Senate’s most ardent opponent of fixing the immigration system. … he is likely to fully support efforts to enlist local law enforcement in a widening dragnet for people without papers. He also, during the campaign, endorsed the idea of a ban on Muslim immigrants.”
“Count Mr. Sessions, as well, among those Trump allies calling for a special prosecutor to continue investigating Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, a decision that, if he is attorney general, would be his to make.”
Unlike Flynn’s appointment, this one has to have the advice and consent of the Senate. You would hope for broad bipartisan rejection of Sessions as the Senate did years ago. We’ll see. But such a rejection would be complicated by the implications for the Senate vs. the incoming President.
Scott Lemieux writing in the New Republic explains why The Trump Era Is Already a Disaster for Civil Rights and in particular Why Jeff Sessions is a terrible pick to lead the Justice Department. Here are snippets.
The DOJ is about to change course, hurtling back towards Jim Crow. When he was a U.S. Attorney, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general declared that “I wish I could decline on all” civil rights cases. Sessions called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired” organizations. He joked that he used to think the Ku Klux Klan were “ok” until he found out they were “pot smokers.” He once called a black former assistant U.S. Attorney “boy.”
And his actual record is arguably even worse. “Jeff Sessions got his start prosecuting voting rights activists in Alabama on bogus voter fraud charges,” notes Sam Bagnestos, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and the number two official in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under Holder. “Throughout his career, he has shown hostility to the historically important work of the Civil Rights Division. The damage he can do to civil rights enforcement as attorney general is incalculable.” Nothing about his subsequent history suggests that he’s changed.
And, of course, Sessions is just part of a trend. Sessions is exactly the kind of attorney general you’d expect from a president-elect who made a white nationalist his top adviser and strategist. And you can’t say that Trump’s agenda was hidden. He became prominent within the Republican Party by repeatedly asserting that Barack Obama was not born in the United Sates. Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants, as a class, “rapists.” He called on the judge presiding over the lawsuit over Trump’s fraudulent “university” to recuse himself because of his Mexican heritage. He called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States. At the height of the campaign, he called for punishing five innocent African-American men.
You would think that an overt racist running for a major party nomination would have been the story of the 2016 campaign. But it wasn’t even close. The media devoted far more coverage to Hillary Clinton’s email server management practices than to Trump’s many racist actions. Trump’s call for black people to be punished for crimes for which they had been exonerated by DNA evidence received scant coverage, while Comey’s letter indicating that he may or may not have had new information about a trivial pseudo-scandal was covered like the Kardashian sisters had landed on Mars. This bizarrely skewed coverage played a crucial role in normalizing Trump, making his racism just one more scandal not really different than a Clinton Foundation donor asking for favors and not getting them.
Civil rights activists need to fight hard against Sessions, and no Democratic senator should remotely consider voting to confirm him. But he’s a symptom of a much broader problem. His nomination is not an accident—Sessions is a reflection of Trump’s values. As decades of progress on civil rights become undone, perhaps it’s time for many of the nation’s editors and journalists to reflect on the trivia they considered important when covering the election that put Trump in the White House.