President-elect Donald Trump last week selected Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, a decision that civil rights groups have blasted due to Sessions’ history of racism.
Sessions, who was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump during his divisive campaign, is a known opponent of immigration reform as well as criminal justice reform two issues President Barack Obama has prioritized during his presidency.
He came to the defense of Trump’s proposed plan to ban Muslims from entering the country. In December he said Trump was “treading on dangerous ground” but added that it is “appropriate to begin to discuss.” (He made the remarks during a radio interview with Stephen Bannon, Breitbart News’ alt-right chairman who Trump recently appointed as his chief strategist and senior counselor.)
In August Sessions released a statement slamming Obama’s decision to commute 214 prison sentences, accusing the president of “abus[ing] executive power in an unprecedented, reckless manner.”
“Meanwhile, President Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to push for so-called ‘criminal justice reform’ legislation that would further weaken penalties for and result in more early releases of federal felons, including criminal alien drug traffickers,” Sessions wrote. “President Obama has said he would like ‘criminal justice reform’ to be his ‘legacy item.’ Unfortunately, history and common sense tell us that rushing to release federal prisoners will have long-lasting, harmful consequences, particularly for our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
And Sessions’ history of racism long precedes Trump’s election. In 1986, Sessions was rejected to be a district judge in Alabama. He was the second judge to be rejected in 48 years and his inflammatory racist comments and remarks were what cost him the position.
Sessions referred to a white civil rights lawyer as a “disgrace to his race” for taking on voting rights cases. He also called the Voting Rights Act (VRA) a “piece of intrusive legislation.”
Further, Sessions referred to civil rights groups the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the NAACP as “un-American.” He also once saidhe thought members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) “were okay until I found out they smoked pot.” Additionally, Thomas H. Figures, an African American who was a federal prosecutor at the time, said Sessions once called him “boy.”
Democratic leaders have slammed the decision.
“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,” Rep. Luis Gutirrez of Illinois said. “No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) quickly condemned Trump’s pick, citing Sessions’ “decades-long record of opposing civil rights and equality.”
“It is unimaginable that he could be entrusted to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for this nation’s civil rights laws,” the group said in a statement. “This is yet another signal from the incoming administration that it is not only prepared to turn its back on equality, it is actively working to continue to sow division and undo decades of progress.”
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero also released a statement, which reads, in part:
“Sen. Sessions has called the ACLU un-American and communist, assertions we flatly reject. His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations. As the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans. 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.”