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A project tracking federal judicial nominations and courts.

Editorials and Opinion


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Did Jeff Sessions block integration of south Alabama federal courts? ( [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.

Jeff Sessions And The Extreme Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Muslim Lobby (Right Wing Watch, 01/04/17)
Miranda Blue: Thirty years after he was rejected for a federal judgeship because of a history of alleged racist statements and hostility to civil rights groups, the Senate will again have a chance to review Sessions’ record. That review should include Sessions’ close associations with advocacy groups that are hostile to civil rights and that promote anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Jones: NAACP takes stand against Sessions with a sit-in (Philadelphia Daily News [PA], 01/04/17)
Opinion by Solomon Jones: the NAACP continues its fight against a man who is poised to take charge of the Justice Department during a time of turbulence between communities of color and law enforcement. Now, more than ever, black people need fairness from our criminal justice system, and the numbers show we still are not receiving it.... investigations forced consent decrees that brought about change. I don't expect such investigations will be conducted if Sessions is confirmed as attorney general. That's why I support the NAACP's decision to sit down for change. I can only hope that the rest of us will decide to stand up.

The NAACP is staging a sit-in and risking arrest to oppose one of Trump’s major Cabinet nominees: The civil rights group has a good reason for its latest protest against Trump’s attorney general nominee. (Vox, 01/03/17)
German Lopez: Sessions has repeatedly voiced opposition to even basic voting protections for black Americans. Yet if his nomination as attorney general gets through the Senate, he’ll be in charge of the one federal agency in charge of protecting people’s voting rights.... But even worse, Sessions has also made some very troubling — even racist — remarks in the past.

Sessions Has No Problem With Civil Asset Forfeiture -- And That's A Problem (Forbes, 01/03/17)
George Leef: Unfortunately, it seems that Donald Trump’s choice for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, is among that small minority of Americans who reflexively support civil asset forfeiture because it supposedly helps fight crime. At least, those were his thoughts during a Judiciary Committee hearing on civil asset forfeiture in May 2015.... It is depressing to think about the prospect of having a man as the Attorney General who doesn’t seem to care whether people like Russ Caswell, Lyndon McLellan, or Rhonda Cox are treated unjustly, so long as officials say they’re mere collateral damage in their great war on crime. The nation’s top law enforcement officer ought to be deeply concerned about the severe damage civil asset forfeiture inflicts on innocent people. Sessions, however, brushes these and other victims aside because he is certain that the police almost always target people who are guilty of something.... The incentives under civil asset forfeiture are bad and it’s distressing that Sessions doesn’t see them.

Jeff Sessions’ Relationship With Breitbart, ‘The Platform’ For The White Nationalist Alt-Right, Should Be Disqualifying (Huffington Post, 01/03/17)
Marge Baker, People For the American Way: Unfortunately, Sessions’ attitude toward civil rights seems not to have changed in the decades since he was accused of calling civil rights groups “communist-inspired” and “un-American.” Nowhere is this clearer than in his relationship with Breitbart News, the far-right outlet that presents itself as a platform for the so-called Alt-Right, a white nationalist faction that has rebranded itself for the internet age.

Jeff Sessions says he handled these civil rights cases. He barely touched them. (Washington Post, 01/03/17)
Opinion By J. Gerald Hebert, Joseph D. Rich and William Yeomans: Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions is trying to mislead his Senate colleagues, and the country, into believing he is a champion for civil rights. We are former Justice Department civil rights lawyers who worked on the civil rights cases that Sessions cites as evidence for this claim, so we know: The record isn’t Sessions’s to burnish. ... In the questionnaire he filed recently with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions (R-Ala.) listed four civil rights cases among the 10 most significant that he litigated “personally” ... We can state categorically that Sessions had no substantive involvement in any of them.

Cynthia Tucker: Sessions likely to put spin on ‘justice for all’ (Troy Record [NY] , 01/02/17)
"Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is one in a long line of reprehensible characters likely to inhabit the Trump White House. But if he is confirmed as the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer, Sessions will be in a position to provoke extraordinary harm in the lives of ordinary Americans.... His civil rights record is well known by those who work to remedy discrimination; that record helped to torpedo his 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship.... In the Senate, Sessions learned to publicly moderate his rhetoric and to take positions that made him seem less racist. Still, his bigotry came to the fore as he pushed legislation to oppress gays and immigrants. ...Sessions is skeptical toward even legal immigration. ... After several years of bipartisan agreement that the so-called war on drugs has run amok, Sessions seems poised to take us back to the era of “Reefer Madness.” That’s the justice of a zealot."

My view: Reining in civil asset forfeiture (Deseret News [UT] , 01/02/17)
Nick Sibilla, Institute for Justice communications associate: On Jan. 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its hearings to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general. This hearing is an important opportunity to learn more about Sen. Sessions’ views on civil forfeiture and the need for reform. For starters, it is vital to know if Sessions will continue widely lauded limitations on a federal forfeiture program called “equitable sharing.”

Jesse Jackson: Civil rights at risk under Sessions (Chicago Sun Times, 01/01/17)
"Sessions is an outlier, an unimaginable nominee as attorney general, an implacable opponent of the very rights and liberties that the attorney general is supposed to defend. As more than 200 civil rights, human rights and women’s groups noted in a unified statement: “Sen. Sessions has a 30-year record of racial insensitivity, bias against immigrants, disregard for the rule of law and hostility to the protection of civil rights that makes him unfit to serve as the attorney general of the United States.”... Three decades ago, a Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Sessions to a federal judgeship. It deemed him unfit for the bench due to his repeated racially biased remarks, his intemperate dismissal of the ACLU and the NAACP as “un-American,” and his open opposition to the Voting Rights Act, which he scorned as “intrusive.” ... as attorney general, Sessions will drive this country apart, exacerbate racial tensions, trample basic rights and endanger the public belief in the rule of law. Senators in both parties should make it clear that this country has no desire to turn its back on five decade of progress."

5 Things Libertarians Should Be Nervous About in 2017: Say goodbye to 2016. But don’t let your guard down. (, 12/30/16)
Alexis Garcia: A new war on drugs. At a time when most Americans support legalization, 2017 could be bad news for those in favor of legal weed. Donald Trump has commented that legalization should be up to the states, but he's been appointing anti-marijuana lawmakers to key positions in his cabinet. The most notable of these is Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who's been tapped as Attorney General. Sessions has long opposed legalization and has criticized both the Obama administration and the Department of Justice for not enforcing federal marijuana laws.

Jeff Sessions Omits Decades Of Records For His AG Confirmation Hearing: He once argued that doing this is a felony. (Huffington Post, 12/30/16)
Jennifer Bendery: President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is withholding decades’ worth of records from his career ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings early next month, according to an exhaustive report issued Friday by progressive advocacy groups.... He left out major details from his years as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, from 1981 to 1993; as attorney general of Alabama, from 1995 to 1997; and as a first-term U.S. senator, from 1997 to 2002. The gaps encompass the time, for example, when Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986 ― and then rejected after being deemed too racist. He also omitted dozens of recent interviews, some of which included controversial statements he made.... Democrats say the gaps in Sessions’ record mean Republicans should delay his hearing to give him more time to produce documents.

Sen. Sessions’s Record on Crack-Powder Cocaine Disparity Leaves a Lot to be Desired (American Constitution Society Blog, 12/29/16)
Christopher Kang: I was the lead White House legislative affairs staffer on the Fair Sentencing Act and I can tell you that Sen. Sessions’s efforts were only somewhat helpful—and since then have been a far cry from leadership.... While more and more Republicans have supported retroactivity, Sen. Sessions has taken the lead in the opposite direction, discouraging any effort to provide leniency for these men and women.... While Sen. Sessions’s supporters tout the Fair Sentencing Act as his civil rights accomplishment, his active denial of any measure of justice or relief for those sentenced before the law was enacted and his insistence on an 18:1 disparity demonstrate that his record on the Fair Sentencing Act—like his record overall—leave a lot to be desired when evaluating his nomination to become attorney general.

Jeff Sessions to face tough questions over civil asset forfeiture (Maddow Blog {MSNBC], 12/28/16)
Steve Benen: As the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page noted today, the senator’s position on civil asset forfeiture deserves much closer scrutiny.... George Will, the conservative Washington Post columnist, noted over the holiday weekend that when it comes to the civil forfeiture policy, Sessions isn’t just wrong; the senator also seems to have no idea what he’s talking about.... both have concerns about civil forfeiture, as do many progressive Democrats. It’s one of those rare issues that falls at the bipartisan intersection of concerns over civil liberties and “big government.” Sessions, however, has an antiquated, regressive perspective, which he was only too pleased to share publicly as recently as last year.

The Nomination Of Senator Sessions And The Threat To Liberty And Justice for All (Seattle Medium [WA] , 12/27/16)
Marc H. Morial: With Trump’s nomination of Republican Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the stage appears set to rollback the clock on racial justice, immigration policy, LGBTQ movement advances and gender equality, among other hard fought for gains in the American struggle towards equality for all its citizens.... a man once rejected as too racist to hold a federal judgeship, and has demonstrated a career-long, deep hostility to civil rights, is now being considered to serve as the nation’s chief enforcer of civil rights law. A man who once described the Voting Rights act as “intrusive,” he is now being considered as the nation’s top law enforcer, tasked with enforcing our nation’s voting rights laws.

Will a Trump Administration’s Support for Police Taking Citizens' Property Trigger Needed Reforms? Sen. Sessions' endorsement of civil forfeiture gets public criticism. (, 12/27/16)
Scott Shackford: [George] Will targeted Sessions over the senator's open support for asset forfeiture and willingness to magically transform suspicion into guilt in order to keep the revenue rolling into the pockets of law enforcement agencies.... Sessions' contentions that these people affected are all drug dealers and that forfeitures are handled as a "normal civil case" are both wildly off, as Will explains.

Trump's cabinet is filled with people who oppose LGBTQ equality: Ted Martin (PennLive [PA], 12/24/16)
"Attorney General pick, Sen. Jeff Sessions, voted against allowing LGBT people to serve openly in the military, and opposed expanding the definition of hate crimes to extend to LGBT people."

The very bad reason Jeff Sessions is ‘very unhappy’ (Washington Post, 12/23/16)
George F. Will column: There might somewhere be a second prominent American who endorses today’s civil forfeiture practices, but one such person is “very unhappy” with criticisms of it. At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on forfeiture abuses, one senator said “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong,” and neither is law enforcement enriching itself from this. In the manner of the man for whom he soon will work, this senator asserted an unverifiable number: “95 percent” of forfeitures involve people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.” ... this senator missed a few salient points: In civil forfeiture there usually is no proper “judicial process.” There is no way of knowing how many forfeitures involve criminals .... The Senate Judiciary Committee might want to discuss all this when considering the nominee to be the next attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions’ Close Relationship With Media ‘Bright Spot’ Breitbart (Right Wing Watch, 12/22/16)
Miranda Blue: In preparation for hearings on his nomination to be attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions submitted a response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that should have covered all the public events he’s done and public statements he’s made in his career in politics. He left a whole lot out, including a number of items that reinforced his close relationship with Breitbart, the far-right news outlet that provides a well-known platform for hate.

Invasion of the Agency Snatchers (New York Times, 12/22/16)
Opinion by Linda Greenhouse: Let’s not forget Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama good old boy, whose history of insensitive racial comments kept him from a Federal District Court seat in 1986, now picked to be attorney general. He’s Trent Lott without the charm. ... Attorney General-designate Sessions has a protégé on the federal appeals court in Atlanta, William H. Pryor Jr., who succeeded him as Alabama’s attorney general. One of the most conservative of all federal judges, Judge Pryor once declared that “I became a lawyer because I wanted to fight the A.C.L.U.,” initials he proceeded to detail as “the anti-American Civil Liberties Union.” ... If that happens, the Democrats will have to filibuster. Unless the Republicans decide to go nuclear and abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, the Democrats may well succeed. I actually think time is on their side. The executive branch selections are so off the wall — at such variance with the way most Americans see the country — that objections to a high profile, lifetime, far-right appointment to the Supreme Court will tap into public sentiment that is now largely expressed as mere bafflement but soon enough will turn to real unease. And, after all, the vacancy is not legitimately President-elect Trump’s to fill. Senate Republicans snatched it from President Obama when for nine months they didn’t even deign to filibuster his distinguished nominee, Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That moment has passed, and the Democrats can’t snatch the seat back. But from their position on the high ground, the Democrats may ultimately be able to rally the country behind them to stop what could be the most damaging nomination of all.

Sessions Unchanged: The same hostility toward civil rights advocacy that cost Jeff Sessions a judgeship in the 1980s has been a central theme of his entire Senate career (Medium, 12/21/16)
Kyle Barry, NAACP Legal Defense Fund: Sessions has often directed vitriol at civil rights lawyers — those who spend their legal careers upholding the rule of law in the face of attacks on core constitutional guarantees like freedom of speech and equal protection of the laws — while dismissing them as “activists” with “agendas” who are disqualified from serving as judges or in any other government role.... His condemnation of these groups has been expressed consistently throughout his tenure as a United States Senator. ... his cynical attempt to distort his record with a misleading public relations campaign is an insult to the civil rights community and the entire American public, and affirms that Jeff Sessions, unchanged, is wholly unfit to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcer.

Baker: Sessions a dangerous pick for attorney general (Mason City Globe Gazette [IA], 12/21/16)
Marge Baker, opinion column: Sessions has challenged the 14th Amendment’s unambiguous promise that people born in our country are U.S. citizens. ... In a similar vein, after Trump suggested a blatantly unconstitutional ban on Muslims entering the United States, Sessions defended him, saying it’s “appropriate to begin to discuss this.” Sessions also has a shameful record on voting rights, one of our most critical constitutional rights as Americans. As a federal prosecutor, he led a witch hunt against black organizers helping to register African-American seniors, threatening three organizers with 100-year sentences. Later, as a senator, he applauded the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, .... Perhaps most disturbing, Sessions voted against a prohibition on torture

Jeff Sessions Is The Final Step In The GOP Plan For Permanent National Political Control (Huffington Post, 12/20/16)
Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Sessions is the final step in the GOP plan for permanent national political control. When he’s had the chance during his tenure as a US Attorney, as state attorney general, and as a US Senator, he has cheer led voter id laws, relentlessly hunted down and prosecuted every real and imagined voter fraud act, railed against the pre-clearance provision of section 5 of the VRA, and though he grudgingly voted for an extension of the VRA in 2006, later expressed buyer’s remorse about it.