Civil rights groups and Democratic leaders oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, citing a history of intolerant positions on race. In a letter of testimony dated March 19, 1986, the late Coretta Scott King opposed Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship in Alabama. The letter became public last week.
King, the wife of slain civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., penned a nine-page letter to then-Judiciary Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) testifying against Sessions.
“My longstanding commitment which I have shared with my husband, Martin, to protect and enhance the rights of Black Americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process, compels me to testify today,” she wrote.
King’s letterwas obtained by The Washington Post and published on the evening of January 10. BuzzFeed News first reported on the existence of her testimony, which was not previously available to the public. It wassaid Thurmond never entered the document into the congressional record. It was not clear why.
In 1985, while U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Sessions brought criminal voting fraud charges against Evelyn Turner, Albert Turner and Spencer Hogue, known as the “Marion Three.”
The three were accused of tampering with absentee ballots during the 1984 Democratic primary to forward the campaigns of candidates supported by the county’s civic league.
In her letter, King commented specifically on the case:
“The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise.
“The investigations into the absentee voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where Blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government.”
She continued, “In these investigations, Mr. Sessions, as U.S. attorney, exhibited an eagerness to bring to trial and convict three leaders of the Perry County Civic League, including Albert Turner, despite evidence clearly demonstrating their innocence of any wrongdoing.”
King said that Sessions “sought to punish older civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”
“Sessions is still a racist,” says 80-year-old Evelyn Turner, one of the “Marion Three” who Sessions prosecuted in the 1980s.
A jury acquitted the Turners and Hogue on all charges. However, Evelyn Turner, 80, said she still has disdain for Sessions.
“I hate him just that bad,” she told CNN recently. “And he shouldn’t be up for anything, not even a dog catcher.”
King stated in her letter that she did not believe Sessions possessed the “requisite judgment, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court.”
Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) reveals intimate stories of her life with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a new posthumous memoir.
Her opposition became a crucial part of the argument against his confirmation; a Republican-controlled Senate rejected him for a federal judgeship. Sessions later became Alabama’s attorney general before replacing Heflin in the Senate in 1997.
His office has disputed that the prosecutions were racially motivated.
In 1985, Sessions said, “[A]n effort has been made to create the impression that this investigation is unfounded or racially motivated. These allegations are false and can only be construed as a part of an effort to poison the jury pool and to attempt to cause witnesses to be reluctant to testify.”
And, on January 10, when he went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the position of U.S. attorney general, Sessions said:
“The prosecution sought to protect the integrity of the ballot, not to block voting. It was a voting rights case.”
To object claims of racism in his practice, Sessions and his supporters often state that he helped to prosecute Ku Klux Klan member Henry Hays for the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald.
According toThe Atlantic, the notion that Sessions was the driving force behind the case may be inflated:
“Sessions’ allies, and even Sessions himself, seem to have embellished key details, and to have inflated his actual role in the case, presenting him not merely as a cooperative U.S. attorney who facilitated the prosecution of the two Klansmen, but the driving force behind the prosecution itself. The details of the case don’t support that claim.”
Following in King’s footsteps, Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, along with Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Bookergave emotional testimonies against Sessions on January 11.
As no Republican senator is expected to vote against Sessions’ attorney general nomination, it’s only a matter of how many Democratic votes it will take him to win, according toThe Hill.