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President-elect Donald Trump stirred mixed reactions with the announcement Friday that he plans to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.
Law enforcement organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union, and the National Sheriffs’ Association, praised the Alabama Republican as a “key law enforcement ally,” and “an outstanding nominee for U.S. attorney general,” respectively. Concerned Women for America, an antiabortion group, also celebrated the appointment, calling Sessions a “champion for conservative principles.”
But despite Trump’s claim that Sessions “is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him,” many civil rights advocates expressed grave concerns over the longtime senator’s civil rights record.
“Sen. Sessions as AG is deeply troubling, and supports an old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People tweeted Friday in response to the news of Sessions’ nomination.
Thirty years ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee — of which Sessions is now a member — denied the then U.S. attorney a federal judgeship over accusations of racism. Former colleagues testified at his 1986 confirmation hearings that Sessions had, among other things, called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American,” addressed a black assistant U.S. attorney as “boy,” and joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero referenced this reported racist history — which Sessions has firmly denied — as well his more recent “positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war” in his response to the announcement Friday.
“As the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans,” Romero stated, urging that “in his confirmation hearings, senators, the media, and the American public should closely examine his stances on these key issues to ensure we can have confidence in his ability to uphold the Constitution and our laws on behalf of all Americans.”
Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 1997, Sessions has supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and opposed expanding hate crime laws to include sexual orientation. He’s also opposed reducing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders and voted in favor of loosening cellphone wiretapping restrictions.
Amnesty International USA expressed similar concerns about the Alabama Republican, who is a vocal proponent of Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim travel to the U.S. Sessions’ unwaveringly restrictive approach to immigration — illegal or not — earned him the title of “Amnesty’s Worst Enemy” from the conservative magazine National Review.
“Jeff Sessions has spent his career trying to use the power of the government to restrict people’s human rights and civil rights,” Margaret Huang, Amnesty International USA’s executive director, said in a statement Friday. “People’s right to live free of discrimination and persecution in the United States is at stake, and we are deeply concerned and troubled by this nomination.”
Huang insisted that “Amnesty International’s grassroots members in all 50 states will press their senators to question him vigorously during the conformation [sic] process.”
The announcement also prompted pushback from Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, who blasted Sessions’ “atrocious voting record on environmental issues” as proof “that he absolutely cannot be entrusted to defend and enforce the laws that protect our air, our water, and our communities,” and called on members of the Senate to oppose his appointment as attorney general.
“If President-elect Donald Trump wants to be a president for all Americans, then he should select an attorney general who will defend the rights and liberties of all Americans,” Brune said in a statement Friday, adding that “any senator who believes in justice shouldn’t put Jeff Sessions in charge of ensuring it.”
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., was similarly sharp in his criticism of Sessions, arguing that the longtime senator would “erase 50 years of progress” as attorney general.
“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, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” Gutiérrez stated.
In an effort to refute the expected reports rehashing decades-old allegations of racism, Weekly Standard writer Mark Hemingway highlighted Sessions’ work to desegregate Alabama schools as a U.S. attorney, as well as his prosecution of local a Klan leader for the murder of a black teenager.
While Hemingway wrote that “Sessions’s actual track record certainly doesn’t suggest he’s a racist, the enthusiastic endorsement of former KKK leader David Duke suggests he at least has the support of some.”