Black Lawmakers Move Against Senator Sessions

N.J. Sen. Cory Booker says fellow Sen. Jeff Sessions' record on civil rights represents "a real danger to our country." Congressmen John Lewis and Cedric Richmond also to testify.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) / REUTERS

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions has such a poor record on civil rights that, for the first time in U.S. Senate history, a sitting senator will testify against him Wednesday in his bid to become the nation's next attorney general.


New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on Monday said he felt compelled to take the action due to Sessions' decades-long record opposing civil rights. Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, along with Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also intend to testify against Sessions. Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee begin Tuesday.

"I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague," Booker told CNN. "But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience."

Booker said on MSNBC on Monday that Sessions "has a posture and a positioning that I think represent a real danger to our country."

"We've seen Jeff Sessions — that's Senator Jeff Sessions — consistently voting against or speaking out against key ideals of the Voting Rights Act, taking measures to try to block criminal justice reform."

The Black lawmakers join countless others who have voiced their disapproval of Sessions and urged senators not to confirm him for the nation's top law enforcement role.

Sessions, 70, is a 20-year veteran of the Senate and has a history of intolerant positions on race, immigration and criminal justice reform. He was the first sitting senator to endorse then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and defended Trump's proposed plan to ban Muslims from entering the country.

In 1986 Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate due to racial comments and actions, and he is considered to have an "anti-civil rights" Senate voting record by the American Civil Liberties Union.

During his time in the Senate, 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.

Additionally, he has voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, has opposed the Voting Rights Act and is opposed to immigration reform. He also once referred to a white civil rights lawyer as a "disgrace to his race" for taking on voting rights cases.

Numerous outside groups, including the NAACP, the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (AAAED) and more than 1,300 law professors representing 177 law schools from 49 states, have all come out publicly urging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Sessions.

NAACP has called Sessions "a threat to desegregation and the Voting Rights Act." Last week several civil rights activists were arrested for staging a sit-in at Sessions' Alabama office to protest his nomination. Among those arrested were Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Stephen Green, the organization's national director of its youth division.

The AAAED in a statement said, "Upon reviewing the voting record of Sen. Sessions, which is replete with evidence of a bias against efforts to promote equal opportunity for women, minorities, persons with disabilities and the LGBT community, the association finds that Sessions lacks the fundamental requirement for attorney general: a demonstrated ability to serve as the chief legal enforcer of rights for all including the historically disadvantaged."

"We do not take this position lightly and without due consideration," added AAAED President Myron R. Anderson in the statement. "After a review of the voting record of Senator Sessions, in addition to his many statements and actions as reported by the press and recounted by civil rights and government leaders, we cannot in good conscience remain silent."

Sessions' voting record with regard to confirmations of minorities and people of color has also been called into question. Sessions has opposed the confirmations of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general, Julian Castro to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to become U.S. Supreme Court justices, Debo Adegbile to be assistant attorney general for civil rights and Tom Perez for Secretary of Labor.

"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), in a statement shortly after Sessions was nominated by Trump.

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