By Lauren Victoria Burke
The first sentence from the statement by Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson that was released hours after the news broke that President-Elect Donald Trump had chosen the Alabama Senator as his Attorney General said it all.
“There’s no other way to say it: Jeff Sessions is a racist.”
The statement continued: “Our question for members of the United States Senate is simple: do they support racism, or do they not? In 1986, the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee refused to confirm Sessions to the federal bench. In 2017, the Senate should be just as unequivocal: “no” to racism means “no” to Jeff Sessions.”
“We are deeply disturbed, but not at all surprised, by Donald Trump’s choice of Senator Jeff Sessions, a racist, misogynistic and bigoted man to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer,” wrote Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet Action.
“If you have nostalgia for the days when Blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man. No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions,” wrote Rep. Louis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).
Ari Berman wrote in The Nation magazine that, “Donald Trump chose a White nationalist as chief strategist and a White nationalist sympathizer as Attorney General.”
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) also weighed-in on the Trump’s choice for Attorney General.
“We face an alarming choice in the selection of Senator Jeff Sessions to serve as the chief law enforcer for the United States of America,” said Butterfield. “Senator Sessions’ civil rights record is appalling and should disqualify him from Senate confirmation…the Congressional Black Caucus stands ready to oppose Senator Sessions’ confirmation as we adamantly believe his appointment will set us back in the advancement of civil rights and race relations across the country.”
What has civil rights leaders, members of Congress and other activists in an uproar is the public record of the Senator from Alabama. Trump frequently asked Black voters “what do you have to lose” during the primary and general election campaign. The answer to that question is partially wrapped up in who will serve as the next Attorney General. After years of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department making law enforcement more accountable and reaching out for criminal justice reform the selection of Sessions will send a whiplash throughout the justice community.
In 1986, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General was viewed by the Senate to be too racist to be the U.S. District Court in Alabama by other Senators in the mid 1980s. Sessions once declared that the NAACP was “un-American” and “communist inspired.” This was at a time when segregationists Senators Strom Thurmond and John Stennis served in the Senate. Sessions was only the second person in 50 years to be voted down by the Senate to be a district judgeship.
During the same 1986 confirmation, a U.S. Attorney named Thomas Figures testified that he was repeatedly called “boy” by Sessions and was instructed by the Alabama Senator to “be careful what you say to White folks” after Figures spoke assertively to a co-worker. Even the other Senator from Alabama, Sen. Howell Heflin, ended up voting against Sessions’ nomination. During those same hearings, Sessions was made to deny he’d referred to a Black elected official as the N-word. These are the career highlights of Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. Sessions did serve as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1981 to 1985.
During that service, Sessions prosecuted three Black activists for voter fraud including a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Turner. Turner had led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the famous “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. What did Sessions prosecute Turner for two decades later? “Stealing the votes” of elderly Blacks in a voter fraud case that predictably went nowhere with and ended in all of those accused being acquitted.
After being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, not much radically changed as Sessions pushed against justice reform and immigration reforms, championed mandatory minimums and fought against closing the irrational difference in the penalty between crack and powder cocaine that targets blacks disproportionately.
“It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a U.S. federal judge,” the late Sen. Edward Kennedy said about Sessions during the 1986 confirmation. But it was only a few weeks ago that it was inconceivable Trump could be elected as President.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.