By Forrest Lee Jones
President Donald Trump’s controversial nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) for United States Attorney General (AG) is expected to be approved by Congress despite liberal opposition, according to Josh Gerstein of Politico.
Trump team representative Jason Miller believes Sessions will be confirmed.
“Senator Sessions is someone who is universally respected across party lines in the U.S. Senate,” Miller said. “We feel very confident that Senator Sessions has the background and the support to receive confirmation.”
But, critics say the selection of Sessions as AG has created a great deal of concern among Justice Department lawyers, setting the stage for a mass exodus, reports Gerstein.
During the run-up to the election, senior department lawyers, who implement voting rights, investigate police brutality and prosecute hate crimes, were worried about the consequences of a Trump presidency. Now with the selection of Sessions, those fears have been realized.
“If there was a level above DEFCON One, it would be that,” said Sam Bagenstos, a civil rights division official. “Jeff Sessions has a unique and uniquely troubled history with the civil rights division … From the perspective of the work of the enforcement of civil rights, I think the Sessions pick is a particularly troublesome one — more than anyone else you can think of.”
One of the concerns comes from the department’s anti-discrimination unit, regarding racist comments made by Sessions to a Black lawyer. In a 1986 judgeship nomination before a Senate Judiciary Committee, a Black lawyer testified that Sen. Sessions referred to him as “boy,” and another lawyer testified Sessions saying the Ku Klux Klan was “OK, until I heard that they smoked pot.”
Moreover, the Justice Department complaints are not just related to Sen. Sessions’ comments but his unsuccessful prosecution of Black civil rights leaders for ballot-tampering.
Albert Turner, a former assistant to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was acquitted, once described the prosecution as more like a “witch hunt” by Sen. Sessions.
Supporters of Sen. Session say the allegations being made are unfounded and a cover for liberals’ disagreements with the senator’s political views.
“Throughout three intervening decades of public life, Mr. Sessions hasn’t evinced an iota of racial animus,” said Quin Hillyer, a columnist in Mobile, Ala., in The Wall Street Journal. Further, Sen. Sessions has demonstrated his pursuit of equal justice as one of three sponsors of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced differences in sentencing terms between crack and powdered cocaine. “Mr. Sessions specifically argued that this created unfair racial disparities, since crack was the drug of poor inner cities,” reported the The Wall Street Journal.
“The only reason folks are criticizing him is because people don’t like his conservative principles,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a former official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President George W. Bush. “He’s a very good guy. The claims resurrecting these claims of racism are complete and total bull.”
Von Spakovsky says critics fail to acknowledge Sen. Sessions’ efforts to fight the Klan in his state.
“It was his case that he filed against the KKK that helped break the back of the Klan in Alabama,” Von Spakovsky said.
Von Spakovsky acknowledged there will be a large number of resignations in the civil rights division. He hopes they do because of their liberal views.
“There may be an exodus. I hope, frankly, there is,” said von Spakovsky.
Lisa Graves, a former lawyer during the Clinton administration, is concerned what impact an appointment by Sen. Sessions would have upon police brutality cases.
“With respect to Sessions’ background, I think it’s a really serious question of whether he will at all continue the Justice Department’s process of examining these cases where people are shot who are unarmed and often African-American,” Graves said. “I just don’t have any confidence he’ll do the right thing.”
According to Gerstein, while Democrats express concern about Sessions, they say they will reserve judgment until confirmation hearings start.