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Jeff Sessions’ Nomination Will Be a Defining Vote for Every Senator

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A Vote to Confirm is a Vote for Everything He Does in Office

Senator Jeff Sessions’ longstanding views and record on civil rights, voting rights and immigration make him unfit to serve as Attorney General. Surely, this should be cause for a difficult confirmation process.  But,  according to Paul Kane’s Washington Post story, “Jeff Sessions Should Have Been a Tough Sell in the Senate, But He’s Too Nice.” The Post story notes that Senator Sessions “is genial, respectful and patient toward colleagues and staff. And that has given fellow Republicans and even some Democrats reason not to scrutinize the more unsavory allegations of his political history.”

As Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, recently stated, “Collegiality is no substitute for the constitutional requirement of advice and consent. That is a standard we expect the committee to adhere to.”

Notably, while an array of Sessions’ troubling racial and civil rights views helped to defeat his judicial nomination in 1986, what’s most relevant and concerning about Sessions’ nomination in 2017 is his record during the intervening years and the havoc he could wreak as Attorney General.

“When Sessions’ confirmation hearings start tomorrow, we fully expect Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein and the rest of her Democratic colleagues to hold Sessions’ feet to the fire for his anti-immigrant, anti-civil rights record.  There’s too much at stake to tread lightly or give Senator Sessions a pass because they know him personally. Anyone who votes to confirm Sessions as Attorney General must realize they would then own every action he takes in office,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund.

In the Boston Globe, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Senator Patrick Leahy writes an op-ed titled, “Jeff Sessions, an extremist then and now” that emphasizes disturbing aspects of Sessions’ more recent history:

“After four days of hearings and extensive testimony, Jeff Sessions’ nomination was rejected by a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. He was too extreme for Republicans in 1986. Now that he is nominated to be attorney general, we will see if the same person is still too extreme for Republicans.

When I pushed in 2009 to advance the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill championed by Kennedy, it was Sessions who sought to derail it. He asserted at a Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill that he was “not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination.”

When I worked across the aisle in 2013 to reauthorize and greatly expand the Violence Against Women Act to protect students, immigrants, LGBT victims, and those on tribal lands from domestic violence and sexual assault, Sessions was one of just a handful of Senate Republicans to oppose it.

And in 2015, it was Sessions who led the opposition to a resolution I offered in the Senate Judiciary Committee that simply reiterated the basic principle that “the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion.” My amendment was supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the committee, including the Republican chairman.

Sessions has repeatedly stood in the way of efforts to promote and protect Americans’ civil rights. He did so even as other members of the Republican Party sought to work across the aisle to advance the cause of living up to our nation’s core values of equality and justice…”

A host of civil rights leaders have been emphasizing similar points – as Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLRnoted, “We need an attorney general who understands the experiences of all Americans, who sees our community as part of this country. He demonstrates again and again that he is not that person.”

Ahead of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Sessions’ nomination on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, New York Times editorial, “What Are You Hiding, Jeff Sessions?” provides a helpful reminder about the role fellow Senators, particularly Democrats, will have to play in ensuring that Senate collegiality does not trump their essential duties: 

“Despite Mr. Sessions’s insultingly incomplete responses to the committee, the burden remains on him to show he is fit to serve in such an influential post. His failure to do so may not deter Republicans, who appear to care only about getting their friend and colleague confirmed quickly. In contrast, when the Democrats controlled the Senate in 2009, they agreed to delay confirmation hearings for Mr. Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder Jr.

This sets up the first big test of Democrats’ willingness to push back against Mr. Trump’s radical cabinet picks. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, needs to take the lead in ensuring that Americans know as much as possible about the man who would be the nation’s top law-enforcement official. The attorney general is too important an office, and Mr. Sessions’s views are too extreme — as Republicans themselves saw 30 years ago — to allow his nomination to sail through without a fight.”

As Frank Sharry recently stated, “Senators who purport to care about civil rights, immigrant communities and an inclusive vision of America should place these principles over senatorial collegiality … Those who pat him on the back and give him their support will end up owning every single thing he does. Every assault on civil rights. Every conniving attempt to go after immigrants. Every attempt at voter suppression. Make no mistake, this is a defining vote that every member of the Senate — Democrat and Republican alike — will be judged by.”