In a 52-47 vote late Wednesday, largely along party lines, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the nation’s next attorney general. Despite strong opposition from lawmakers, citizens and civil rights groups across the spectrum from the NAACP to the HRC and ACLU Sessions will lead the U.S. Department of Justice.
“I want to thank those who, after it all, found sufficient confidence to confirm me as the next attorney general,” Sessions said on the floor of the chamber after the vote, which is an uncommon action for a senator recently confirmed to a Cabinet position.
He also asked members of Congress to have some “latitude” in their dealings with members of other parties.
“Denigrating people who disagree with us, I think, is not a healthy trend for our body,” he said, referring to the Senate.
King wrote in a recently uncovered letter 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.”
The most recent high profile opposition to Sessions, 70, took place Tuesday.Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was shut down on the Senate floor for attempting to read a letter written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, the late widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, opposing Sessions’ then-nomination to become a federal judge due to his poor record on civil rights. Sessionswas subsequently rejected for a federal judgeship by the Republican-controlled Senate, in large part due to his stance on race.
On Wednesday, during a daily White House press briefing, American Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan jokingly said to Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, that she should be allowed a few extra questions because of Black History Month. Spicer laughed and said, “You can play that once.”
Ryan then said to Spicer that she wanted his thoughts on the statement from King’s letter read by Warren on the Senate floor: “Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by Black citizens.”
He said he disagreed with King’s assessment of Sessions.
“I would respectfully disagree with [Coretta Scott King’s] assessment of Senator Sessions then and now,” Spicer said.
“His record on civil voting rights, I think, is outstanding I can only hope that if she was still with us today, that after getting to know him and to see his record and his commitment to voting and civil rights she would share that sentiment.”
Ugh. Spicer desecrates Coretta Scott King, tells string of lies about Sessions pic.twitter.com/65nqBjIcFY
Tommy Christopher (@tommyxtopher) February 8, 2017
Many took to social media to disagree with Spicer, including Bakari Sellers, a South Carolina politician and CNN commentator.
The level of disconnect is simply astonishing. So question, is it willful ignorance https://t.co/QYzm7X91lk
Bakari Sellers (@Bakari_Sellers) February 8, 2017
In response to Sessions’ confirmation, the Human Rights Campaign tweeted:
HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) February 9, 2017
However, like Spicer, many of Sessions’ supporters say his past is in the past andapplaudhis recent record in the Senate.
King testified against Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship in Alabama because of his civil rights record.
His record as a senator for the past 20 years demonstrates anything butbeing supportive of civilrights and, infact,Sessions is considered to have an “anti-civil rights” Senate voting record by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union.
Specifically, Sessions has voted in favor of a constitutional ban on gay marriage; against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act; and against an amendment to expand the definition of hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation and disability.Sessions has also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, has opposed the Voting Rights Act and is opposed to immigration reform.
“It is deeply disturbing that Jeff Sessions, who has such clear animus against so many Americans including the LGBTQ community, women and people of color could be charged with running the very system of justice designed to protect them,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), when Sessions’ nomination was announced.
“When Donald Trump was elected, he promised to be a president for all Americans, and it is hugely concerning and telling that he would choose a man so consistently opposed to equality as one of his first and most important Cabinet appointees.”
Lynch has facilitated high-profile cases involving policing and corruption, and brought criminal justice reform to the forefront.
Beyondhis voting record,Sessions also once referred to a white civil rights lawyer as a “disgrace to his race” for taking on voting rights cases andcalled the Voting Rights Act (VRA) a “piece of intrusive legislation.” Hehas called civil rights groups such as the ACLU and the NAACP “un-American,” and also saidhe thought members of the Ku Klux Klan “were okay until I found out they smoked pot.”
Democratic leaders in November slammed President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Sessions.
“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, Senator 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) also condemned Trump’sannouncement,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 astatement. “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.”