Editorials and Opinion
Jeff Sessions Could Return Criminal Justice to the Jim Crow Era: Sessions’s extreme views on crime and punishment are a throwback to the darkest chapters in American history. (Nation, 01/09/17)
Ari Berman: “When he was attorney general, we had a horrific problem of racial bias in jury selection,” says Bryan Stevenson, the renowned civil-rights lawyer and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. “Before Sessions took office, courts had reversed 23 cases where there had been intentional exclusion of people of color on juries and his office defended most of those cases…. He was defending the prosecutor’s conduct in the McGahee case and saying it was not unconstitutional or illegal or discriminatory despite the fact that all 24 African Americans who qualified for jury service were excluded.”
Stevenson argued McGahee’s case on appeal and in 2009 the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated his death sentence, citing “intentional discrimination” by the prosecution and an “astonishing pattern resulting from the total exclusion of African-Americans.” When his sentence was overturned, McGahee had been on death row in Alabama for 23 years....More than any nominee for attorney general in modern American history, Sessions would be an unapologetic defender of the old Confederacy and has refused to criticize policies that stem directly from Jim Crow.
Bad Law: A look at the terrible things Jeff Sessions did as attorney general of Alabama. (Slate Magazine, 01/09/17)
Elizabeth Wydra: outside groups defending Sessions point to his two-year tenure as Alabama attorney general as a reason he should be confirmed. Look at that record closely, though, and you’ll find a legal officer with an atrocious record of holding allies, political and otherwise, accountable to the Constitution, to the law, or to basic ethical standards.... at least twice during his mere two years in office, Sessions produced legally flawed opinions that were favorable to Alabama Gov. Fob James that also, conveniently, aligned with the interests of one of Alabama’s most politically powerful and deep-pocketed organizations. That organization also happened to have spent substantial sums on, and taken credit for, electing James and Sessions to office.
Years later, Sessions’ legal reasoning in these opinions was overruled by broad majorities of the Alabama Supreme Court—including in one ruling written by a Republican justice....he also cleared the way for a politically connected insurance company’s planned no-bid coverage of state road work; urged the Alabama Ethics Commission to approve corporate-funded junkets for state employees; fought successfully against seating the first black intermediate appellate court judges in Alabama’s history; and, no joke, provided formal support for a local sheriff’s use of actual chain gangs.
DOJ Headed by Sessions Threatens to Undo Decades of Civil Rights Progress (Huffington Post, 01/09/17)
Brent A. Wilkes, League of United Latin American Citizens: Sessions’ hostility toward immigration issues, voting rights issues, and civil rights protections could possibly gut many of the critical protections that vulnerable communities depend on to exercise our constitutional rights.... In addition to his xenophobic views, Sessions has also demonstrated that he is no friend to voting rights.
Some questions for Jeff Sessions (Boston Globe, 01/09/17)
Opinion by Donald K. Stern: The attorney general can and should implement the president’s broad priorities (for example, in the areas of immigration or violent crime) but must be careful that these do not dictate particular prosecutions or cases. So here are a few questions and answers I would like to see
Jeff Sessions Is Just Not in the Same League as Former Attorneys General (Nation, 01/09/17)
Nan Aron: No matter their political party, trailblazers at the Department of Justice helped presidents and the nation take major steps forward in establishing civil-rights law and protections. ... Sessions’s unequivocal record of racial insensitivity and hostility to protecting civil rights, and his extreme-right ideology, suggest he would willfully work to reverse the decades of civil-rights progress
Jeff Sessions Has a History of Blocking Black Judges: "The senator has a problem putting African Americans on the federal bench in Alabama." (Mother Jones, 01/09/17)
Pema Levy: Alabama is nearly 30 percent black, but only three African American judges have ever sat on a federal bench there. Advocates for judicial diversity in the state say that in recent decades, that's thanks largely to Jeff Sessions, the Republican senator from Alabama whom Donald Trump has nominated to be his attorney general. During his 20 years in the Senate, they say, Sessions has used his perch on the judiciary committee to block nearly every black candidate for a judgeship in his state.... The only exception to this pattern was the confirmation of Abdul Kallon, a black lawyer, to a federal district judgeship in 2009. But because Kallon replaced retiring Judge U.W. Clemon, a Jimmy Carter appointee and the first African American federal judge in Alabama, the diversity of the state's bench didn't change. ... Sessions' support of Kallon only went so far. When Obama nominated Kallon to the vacant 11th Circuit seat in February 2016, Sessions opposed his confirmation.
8 Reasons The Senate Must Reject Jeff Sessions (Huffington Post, 01/09/17)
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II: Senator Sessions’ record suggests a remarkable consistency in support of policies that contradict and subvert the Reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee citizenship, equal protection under the law, and the ballot to all Americans.
Combating Hate Crimes Must Be Top Priority For Trump And New Attorney General (Huffington Post, 01/09/17)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin: Unfortunately, President-elect Trump’s choice of Senator Sessions, who has opposed the expansion of federal hate crime laws, as his nominee to lead the Justice Department sends a concerning message that combating this crisis is not a priority for the incoming administration.... If Senator Sessions cannot or will not make a full commitment to act on violence borne out of hatred based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other characteristic, then he has no place serving as America’s top law enforcement official.
Here are a few questions Sessions needs to answer before being confirmed as attorney general (Sacramento Bee [CA] , 01/09/17)
Opinion by Brian K. Landsberg: I reflect on my experience as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice from 1964 to 1986.... The Senate Judiciary Committee should explore with Sessions what policies and priorities he will adopt for the Department’s Civil Rights Division.... The American people have expressed a strong commitment to the cause of racial justice, through a series of civil rights laws. When the Senate exercises its duty to advise and consent, it must assure itself that Sessions will interpret and enforce these laws so as to promote that commitment.
Jeff Sessions, the Grim Reaper of Alabama (New York Times, 01/08/17)
Op-Ed by John J. Donohue III and Max Schoening: we learn more about Mr. Sessions’ legal mind-set from a look at the 40-plus death sentences he fought to uphold as Alabama’s attorney general from 1995 to 1997. He worked to execute insane, mentally ill and intellectually disabled people, among others, who were convicted in trials riddled with instances of prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination and grossly inadequate defense lawyering.
Jeff Sessions, an extremist then and now (Boston Globe, 01/08/17)
Sen. Patrick Leahy column: “Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past. It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a US attorney, let alone a US federal judge. He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.” (Senator Edward Kennedy, March 13, 1986)
After four days of hearings and extensive testimony, Jeff Sessions’ nomination was rejected by a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. ... also look at what the nominee has said and done since that time. When I pushed in 2009 to advance the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill championed by Kennedy, it was Sessions who sought to derail it. He asserted at a Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill that he was “not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination.”
When I worked across the aisle in 2013 to reauthorize and greatly expand the Violence Against Women Act to protect students, immigrants, LGBT victims, and those on tribal lands from domestic violence and sexual assault, Sessions was one of just a handful of Senate Republicans to oppose it.
And in 2015, it was Sessions who led the opposition to a resolution I offered in the Senate Judiciary Committee that simply reiterated the basic principle that “the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion.” My amendment was supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the committee, including the Republican chairman.
Sessions has repeatedly stood in the way of efforts to promote and protect Americans’ civil rights. He did so even as other members of the Republican Party sought to work across the aisle to advance the cause of living up to our nation’s core values of equality and justice
Five Questions for Jeff Sessions (New York Review of Books, 01/08/17)
David Cole: the ACLU ... rarely testifies in confirmation hearings. But we are sufficiently concerned about Sen. Sessions’s record that we have elected to depart from our usual practice and speak out—not to oppose the nomination, but to insist that the many questions about Sessions’s record must be answered before the Senate votes on his nomination. Here are five: 1. Does Sessions believe that all Americans, regardless of race, should have an equal right to vote? ... 2. How does Sessions defend his record on voting rights laws in the twenty years he has been a Senator for Alabama? ... 3. Why has Sessions so often opposed efforts to protect the rights of women and gays and lesbians? ... 4. Is Sessions prepared to treat all religions equally, and to honor the separation of church and state?... 5. Can Senator Sessions be an attorney general for all the people?
If Sessions won't defend Muslims, he's wrong AG for religious freedom (The Hill, 01/08/17)
Op-Ed by BY REV JENNIFER BUTLER AND REV JOHN L. MCCULLOUGH: How can Senator Sessions defend the religious freedom of all Americans when he has denigrated one religion in particular? ... Sessions must demonstrate the willingness to respect the dignity and rights of all Americans, and the ability to account for his past statements and behavior.
Racist or Not, Sessions Has Chosen the Wrong Side of History in the Struggle for Justice (New Yorker, 01/07/17)
Ed Kilgore: Deval Patrick may have provided a smart path.
Patrick, who was an NAACP attorney before he became assistant attorney general for civil rights under Bill Clinton (and later a two-term governor of Massachusetts), has penned a letter to the Judiciary Committee that cuts through all the she-said-he-said about Sessions’s subjective racial views and focuses on one objective aspect of the Alabaman’s record that ought to be disqualifying: his 1985 “voter fraud” prosecution of the “Perry County Three,” volunteer activists trying to help old and frail African-Americans vote in a jurisdiction near the voting-rights mecca of Selma.
Sessions lost that case on trial, but as Patrick puts it, it should not have been tried at all, and illustrates a prosecutor’s use of his discretion in a bad cause brought maliciously.
Jeff Session’s appointment raises specter of prosecuting voting rights activists (The Hill, 01/07/17)
MICHELE JAWANDO AND BILLY CORRIHER: The criminal charges against Turner, his wife, and another voting rights activist were brought by none other than President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who at the time was a federal prosecutor. ... The case was the first prosecution of voting rights activists in decades.... The Senate Judiciary Committee should ... demand that Sessions answer questions about his views on the Turner case and about the role of the Department of Justice in protecting voting rights. The American public deserves to know whether federal law enforcement agencies or prosecutors will prosecute those who want to help others vote.
Jeff Sessions’s actions alone are disqualifying (Washington Post, 01/07/17)
Colbert I. King, Opinion writer: this is not about knowing what’s in the mind or body of Jeff Sessions.
What should matter most are his words and deeds as a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, as attorney general of Alabama and as a U.S. senator.... Entrust Jeff Sessions to fairly, openly and impartially administer justice and protect the rights of all Americans? Not if his own public record is any guide.
Sessions should be disqualified for attorney general post (The Hill, 01/06/17)
Todd A. Cox: Sessions did not fill out his application fully or truthfully.
In the questionnaire Sessions submitted to the Senate Judiciary committee on Dec. 9, he omitted information on hundreds of communications, from speeches to interviews to articles. In some cases, he included a notation that “no transcript or clips” were available, despite the fact that records were easily findable online.... The questionnaire also has another simple, yet very important, section: “list the ten most significant litigated matters which you personally handled.” ... the truth is he did not litigate these civil rights cases.... Grassley is proposing that Sessions shouldn’t be held to the same standards Sessions himself demanded of nominees
Six Ways Republicans are Rigging the Process for Jeff Sessions (Huffington Post, 01/06/17)
Christopher Kang: 1. Chairman Grassley’s double-standard rush to judgment. ... 2. Senator Sessions refuses to provide the Senate with his full record—which he has previously argued is a felony and that a judge would consider contempt.... 3. Another Grassley double standard refuses to hold Senator Sessions accountable for these hundreds of missing items.... 4. Chairman Grassley silences outside witnesses. ...5. Chairman Grassley does not provide transparency or public access to Senator Sessions’ nomination materials. ... 6. Senator Sessions refuses to recuse himself.
Did Jeff Sessions block integration of south Alabama federal courts? (AL.com [AL], 01/06/17)
John Archibald column: Sessions in the latter 1990s - for the entire second term of President Bill Clinton - was able to keep a federal judgeship in Mobile vacant, rather than to allow it filled with someone he found objectionable.
And some say Sessions - who has been hounded by decades-old comments that have been seen as racist - wasn't just blocking nominees of a different political stripe. Those involved say he blocked the integration of the federal bench in the Southern District of Alabama.
Birmingham lawyer John Saxon was part of a Bill Clinton patronage committee that decided it was time to integrate the federal courts in Mobile. The Northern and Middle districts had already seen black judges and magistrates, but the Southern District remained lily white.... Saxon said the group sent name after name of candidates - at least two judges and three lawyers - to the White House for vetting. But Clinton's people hit a wall every time. It was Sessions - then a still-new junior senator but a member of the Judiciary Committee. He opposed every one of them.
"Sessions told the White House he couldn't accept any of those people," Saxon said.... He said he asked Sessions to "tell us the name of any African-American anywhere in the state that you find acceptable."
It's not as if there were no qualified candidates. ... Sessions didn't budge .... "We gave him the opportunity to put forth the names of African Americans, but he wouldn't do it," Saxon said. "It was the single most frustrating thing I've ever done."
Mitch McConnell's Political Moves Are Appalling, But Democrats Could Learn from Them (Esquire, 01/05/17)
Jack Holmes: The Lord of Obstruction had a message for Senate Democrats on Wednesday: No obstructing unless I'm the one doing it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, after Antonin Scalia died with nearly a year left in President Obama's term declared that he would refuse to give any Supreme Court nominee a hearing, held a press conference following Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's pledge to contest Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominations. McConnell had a stern message for his opponents in The World's Greatest Deliberative Body: "The American people simply will not tolerate" any attempt to block SCOTUS appointees. The cynicism here is breathtaking. ... To be clear, McConnell's rhetoric here was disingenuous.... Republicans embarked on an unprecedented campaign of obstruction, particularly with regard to judicial appointees,... If Democrats are going to survive, they need to ditch the weird worshipping of civility and learn to punch someone in the jaw. The Supreme Court nomination process—and the hearings for cabinet appointees like Jeff Sessions—would be a good place to start throwing a few jabs.
Will Sessions Follow the Long Tradition of Recusal? (People For blog, 01/05/17)
"As Sen. Richard Blumenthal noted in a letter to Sen. Sessions, all six sitting Senators, both Democratic and Republican, to be nominated and confirmed to cabinet level positions since 1960 have declined to cast a recorded vote on their own nominations.... For Sessions to vote for himself to become Attorney General, he will have demonstrated a frightening unwillingness to avoid situations that are, or appear to be, self-serving. And he’d be doing so as a means to ascend to a position where that unwillingness is disqualifying."
Commentary: Why Burr and Tillis should oppose Trump nominee for Attorney General (Progressive Pulse [NC], 01/05/17)
Rob Schofield: Sessions will go before Thom Tillis, Richard Burr and his other colleagues in the U.S. Senate — the same Senate that refused to consider the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland — to consider whether he is qualified to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
In response, an array of civil rights and civil liberties groups have been marshaling a campaign to oppose the nomination. One of the best summaries of the countless problems with the Sessions nomination comes from the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that as a matter of organizational policy doesn’t even take an official position on nominees.
Op-Ed: Jeff Sessions: An attorney general who’s all in for prosecutors (Los Angeles Times, 01/05/17)
Mark Oppenheimer: Few of Trump’s nominees would bring to their jobs a fixed ideology as poisonous as what Sessions would bring to the Department of Justice. As attorney general, Sessions would oversee federal prosecutors and, most likely, would have a say in whom the president appoints to the federal bench. From his perch he could further his conviction that “prosecutorial misconduct” is nothing more than slander. ... What sets him apart is his belief that prosecutors are at a disadvantage, indeed are something of an endangered species, overrun by the vicious defense bar.... Sessions’ complaints are often leveled against nominees who are people of color.
Before Susan Oki Mollway, an Asian American woman, was confirmed to the federal judiciary in 1998, Sessions worried that based on her “background,” including her “activities with the ACLU in Hawaii,” she could be expected to have the “liberal, activist, anti-law enforcement mentality” typical of the 9th Circuit, for which she was being considered. Frederica Massiah-Jackson would have been the first female African American federal judge, but she eventually withdrew her nomination. “I had a feeling, an intuition, that there was something unhealthy about this nominee, that there was perhaps an unstated bias against prosecutors and law enforcement,” Sessions said about her.
Where were you when we needed you, Deval Patrick? (Boston Globe, 01/04/17)
Joan Vennochi: Patrick is speaking out against Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the former governor of Massachusetts — and the first African American to win election to that position in this state — called Sessions “the wrong person to place in charge of our justice system.”
Patrick has the passion and experience to back up his opposition to Sessions. In 1985, the then-young Harvard Law School graduate was part of a team of NAACP lawyers who defended three black civil rights leaders against voter fraud charges brought by a white federal prosecutor named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. Improbably, the NAACP lawyers prevailed. Describing the case as “a cautionary tale,’’ Patrick writes, “I believe it demonstrates what can happen when prosecutorial discretion is unchecked, when regard for facts is secondary to political objectives. What can happen is that the rule of law is imperiled. In a republic based on law, this is not the kind of risk any of us should accept in our attorney general.”
Conservatives Should Think Twice before Supporting Jeff Sessions (National Review, 01/04/17)
Michael Tanner, Cato Institute: there are red flags in Sessions’s record that should worry those who believe in limited government and individual liberty.
For instance, he sharply departs from the growing bipartisan consensus on criminal-justice reform. Leading conservatives and libertarians, from former Texas governor Rick Perry to Senators such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to the Koch brothers, have embraced the need to make our criminal-justice system more equitable, pushing for a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and a reduction in the incarceration of minor non-violent offenders.
Sessions has not been among them. He was a leading opponent of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which reduced federal sentences for some non-violent drug offenses and other crimes, and has long been one of the most ardent drug warriors in Congress. At a time when 32 states have legalized medical and/or recreational use of marijuana, Sessions told a Senate hearing last April that, “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.” His opposition to state legalization measures promises to put the Justice Department in conflict with conservative principles of federalism.
Moreover, as George Will has pointed out, Sessions also opposes the reform of asset-forfeiture laws.... Just as worrying, Sessions generally opposes Justice Department supervision of local police departments accused of racial abuses. ... Elsewhere, he has defended the ability of the NSA and other federal agencies to spy on Americans. ... Finally, he has opposed legislation protecting the jobs of federal whistle-blowers and shield laws protecting journalists from having to disclose their sources.