Moses said to the people in his final charge "I put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life...Be strong and resolute..for the Lord will not forsake you" Deut. 30 and 31. Former US National Debate Champion and Ordained Rabbi tackles issues of Public Policy, Israel, Islamic Terrorism, Antisemitism, Jewish Wisdom and the Chicago Bears
Friday, November 18, 2016
Senator Jeff Sessions not a racist
Sessions well-documented praise of Rosa Parks belies 'racist' claims
Trump offers Sen. Jeff Sessions attorney general position
When President-elect Donald Trump picked Jeff Sessions for attorney general Friday, critics zeroed in on racist remarks Sessions allegedly made decades ago – but the Alabama senator's 20-year history of honoring black civil rights icon Rosa Parks may not square with efforts to paint him as a bigot.
Sessions, 69, who advised Trump on immigration during the campaign, was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1981 to 1993 before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996. He was re-elected to a fourth term in 2014 and is known for his hardline stance on illegal immigration in particular.
However, the pick was immediately blasted by opponents of Trump, who condemned Sessions as a backwards bigot who would harm the causes of immigrants and African-Americans.
“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,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. in a fiery statement Friday.
“Senator Sessions’ record suggests that he will carry on an old, ugly legacy in this country’s history when civil rights for African-Americans, women and minorities were not regarded as core American values,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said in a statement.
Critics revisited his failed 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship, which was shut down by the Senate Judiciary Committee after it heard testimony that Sessions had made racist remarks and called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” His failed prosecution of three civil rights workers on a tenuous case of voter fraud was also raised as a disqualifying issue.
Sessions was also accused of calling an African-American lawyer “boy” and was also alleged to have said Ku Klux Klan members were “okay," until he "learned they smoked marijuana.” Sessions said the comment was made in jest.
Many of Sessions’ modern-day critics have used the controversy to brand Sessions as a racist, with Gutierrez saying Sessions ran for the Senate “because he was deemed by the Senate Judiciary Committee as too racist to serve as a federal judge.”
“Thirty years ago, a different Republican Senate rejected Senator Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship. In doing so, that Senate affirmed that there can be no compromise with racism; no negotiation with hate,” added Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Yet, the narrative of Sessions as an unapologetic racist is complicated somewhat by his repeated advocacy for black civil rights hero Rosa Parks.
In 1999, Sessions called successfully for the Alabama native to be given the Congressional gold medal. In doing so, Sessions made a passionate call for lawmakers to renew the principle of equality under the law.
“As legislators, we should work to strengthen the appreciation for this fundamental governing principle by recognizing those who make extraordinary contributions towards ensuring that all American citizens have the opportunity, regardless of their race, sex, creed, or national origin, to enjoy in the freedoms that this country has to offer,” Sessions said, before calling Parks a “living embodiment of this principle.”
A year later, Sessions attached an amendment to an appropriations bill that gave $1 million to Alabama for the Rosa Parks Library, Museum and Learning Center at Troy State University Montgomery Campus as a way of memorializing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for which Parks’ protest was the impetus.
In 2005, after Parks’ death, Sessions gave a passionate tribute to her on the floor of the Senate, saying “history will remember Rosa Parks for shaking America's conscience and changing the course of our Nation for the better.”
In 2012, Sessions introduced a resolution to the Senate floor, along with Michigan Democratic senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, to observe the 100th anniversary of Parks’ birth.
“Her courage ignited major changes in our nation and lead a revolution in race relations. Mrs. Parks will always be remembered as a courageous individual, who confronted injustice head-on and, in so doing, changed our nation. Her legacy continues to endure,” Sessions said.
The Trump transition team, responding to the backlash against Sessions, noted Friday both Sessions’ advocacy of Parks, as well as his record as a senator and U.S. attorney in advancing civil rights.
“You know, when Senator Sessions was U.S. attorney, he filed a number of desegregation lawsuits in Alabama and he also voted in favor of the 30-year extension of the Civil Rights Act,” communications director Jason Miller said in a conference call. “He also voted to confirm Attorney General Eric Holder and even spearheaded the effort toward giving the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks.”
“So we feel very confident that Senator Sessions has the background and the support to receive confirmation,” Miller said.
Adam Shaw is a Politics Reporter and occasional Opinion writer for FoxNews.com. He can be reached here or on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.
Senators also pressed Sessions on his failed prosecution of black political activists who were helping elderly black voters with absentee ballots. Sessions brought a case against Albert Turner, who walked behind Martin Luther King Jr. during the march in Selma, Alabama, and Turner’s wife. They were found not guilty on all counts.
After his judicial nomination was defeated, Sessions continued on as U.S. attorney for several years, until the end of the George H.W. Bush administration.
Trump said in a statement on Friday that Sessions was a “world-class legal mind and considered a truly great Attorney General and U.S. Attorney in the state of Alabama.” Trump said it was an honor to nominate Sessions to be the top law enforcement official in the United States.
Sessions said he was “humbled” to be nominated by Trump.
“My previous 15 years working in the Department of Justice were extraordinarily fulfilling. I love the Department, its people and its mission. I can think of no greater honor than to lead them,” Sessions said. “With the support of my Senate colleagues, I will give all my strength to advance the Department’s highest ideals. I enthusiastically embrace President-elect Trump’s vision for ‘one America,’ and his commitment to equal justice under law. I look forward to fulfilling my duties with an unwavering dedication to fairness and impartiality.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) had issued a statement Thursday night that said Sessions had the necessary experience to be the nation’s top law enforcement official.
“Not only would Jeff bring integrity and immense expertise to the role of Attorney General due to his decades of experience in the legal field and an impressive tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Jeff has also gained the deep respect of his Senate colleagues for his commitment to upholding the rule of law,” Shelby said. “My wife Annette and I are proud of Jeff’s accomplishments and wish him and his wife Mary the very best during this exciting transition.”
Trump’s nomination is already facing heavy opposition from civil rights organizations. Republicans will have control of the Senate 52-48 (including Sessions), so their margin for error is not great. If Sessions doesn’t pick up any Democratic support, he could not afford to lose any Republican backers to maintain the simple majority he needs for confirmation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who voted against Sessions in 1986, said Friday that his Senate colleague deserves “a full and fair process” and that the “American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record” at a hearing. He said he had “significant disagreements” with Sessions on civil rights and voting rights, as well as immigration and criminal justice issues.
“The Attorney General serves as the chief law enforcement officer in the country. The Attorney General must be independent and fair. The Attorney General must be deeply committed to the rule of law and must ensure that all people are treated equally before the law,” Leahy said in a statement. “This means that he or she is also the chief protector of civil rights and civil liberties for everyone in our Nation. That has never been more important than in this moment, when hate crimes have spiked across the country, especially against Muslim and LGBTQ Americans. And when we have a President-elect who has proposed religious tests, a return to torture, and a deportation force that threatens to remove millions of immigrants.”
As attorney general, Sessions would likely exercise broad influence over U.S. law enforcement, immigration policy and, specifically, how the nation’s immigration laws are enforced.
Trump has repeatedly promised to deport millions of undocumented residents, a position that dovetails with Sessions’ fervent opposition to any immigration reform. Sessions is especially opposed to proposals that could be seen as a “path to citizenship” for some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are currently living and working in the United States.
Sessions, who attended all-white segregated schools, was named for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who was “instrumental” in the adoption of the Confederate battle flag. He spoke earlier this year about his regrets about not getting involved in the civil rights movement as a young adult.
“As a child and a teenager, I saw evidence of discrimination virtually every day,” Sessions said. “Certainly I feel like I should have stepped forward more and been a leader and a more positive force in the great events that were occurring.”
But by the time Sessions was a top federal prosecutor, he apparently thought civil rights progress had gone far enough, as he explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986. Sessions had been asked to explain why he had reportedly used phrases like “un-American” to describe groups like the ACLU and NAACP.
“I made the comment that the fundamental legal barriers to minorities had been knocked down, and that in many areas blacks dominate the political area, and that when the civil rights organizations or the ACLU participate in asking for things beyond what they are justified in asking, they do more harm than good,” Sessions testified.
weekly Standard In Alabama, Jeff Sessions Desegregated Schools and Got the Death Penalty for KKK Head
Now that Jeff Sessions is Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, you're going to hear a lot of people dig up old accusations that Sessions is a racist. In fact, CNN did so last night. However, between the nature of the accusations and Sessions's actual record of desegregating schools and taking on the Klan in Alabama, it strains credulity to believe that he is a racist.
These accusations all center around the bruising judicial nomination process Sessions went through in 1986. Ronald Reagan had tapped Sessions to serve on the federal bench and the Senate judiciary committee ultimately rejected him after they heard testimony that he had supposedly called the ACLU and NAACP "un-American" and "communist-inspired," as well as made racist remarks. The accusations came from Thomas Figures, a black assistant U.S. attorney who worked for Sessions who said Sessions called him "boy" and had made a joke about how he thought the KKK was "O.K. until [he] found out they smoked pot." Another prosecutor, J. Gerald Hebert, said Sessions had called a white lawyer "a disgrace to his race" for representing black clients.
There is no concrete reason to doubt Figures or Herbert. Sessions vehemently denied calling Figures "boy," but he didn't rebut the substance of some of the claims—though he asserted they were taken out of context. It's not exactly inaccurate to point out that the NAACP and ACLU were "communist-inspired." He said he thought it absurd to think he would make a pro-KKK joke considering he was prosecuting the Klan at the time he made the remark. And for what it's worth, Figures also directed accusations at a another assistant U.S. Attorney who worked with Figures. That assistant U.S. Attorney also said Figures wasn't telling the truth and defended Sessions's integrity. Ultimately, the charges were no more than hearsay.
However, it's worth noting that Senator Ted Kennedy, on the Senate judiciary committee at the time, seemed heavily invested in tanking Sessions nomination. The next year, Kennedy's crusade was to sink Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, which has generally been regarded as a shameful smear campaign ever since. The episode upended the comity that had previously existed between the Senate and the White House on Supreme Court nominations—Antonin Scalia was approved to the court 98-0 the year before, the same year that Sessions was filleted by Kennedy and Democrats on the judiciary committee. Perhaps Sessions was a trial run for "Borking."
In 2009, Sessions himself told me that "When I got to Washington, there had been an orchestrated campaign to smear my record, and it was executed with great care. And I, frankly, was a babe in the woods and wasn't sufficiently prepared for it." For that reason, when Sessions got to the Senate he has always been more deferential toward nominations than most of his GOP colleagues. For instance, he was one of the only Republican senators to support Eric Holder's nomination for attorney general.
Sessions's actual track record certainly doesn't suggest he's a racist. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a U.S. Attorney he filed several cases to desegregate schools in Alabama. And he also prosecuted the head of the state Klan, Henry Francis Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a black teenager selected at random. Sessions insisted on the death penalty for Hays. When he was later elected the state Attorney General, Sessions followed through and made sure Hays was executed. The successful prosecution of Hays also led to a $7 million civil judgment against the Klan, effectively breaking the back of the KKK in Alabama.
As a U.S. attorney, he also prosecuted a group of civil rights activists, which included a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., for voter fraud in Perry County, Alabama. The case fell apart, and Sessions bluntly told me he "failed to make the case." This incident has also been used to claim that Sessions is racist—but it shouldn't be. The county has been dogged with accusations of voter fraud for decades. In 2008, state and federal officials investigated voter fraud in Perry County after "a local citizens group gathered affidavits detailing several cases in which at least one Democratic county official paid citizens for their votes, or encouraged them to vote multiple times." A detailed story in theTuscaloosa News reported that voting patterns in one Perry County town were also mighty suspicious in 2012: "Uniontown has a population of 1,775, according to the 2010 census but, according to the Perry County board of registrars, has 2,587 registered voters. The total votes cast thereTuesday—1,431—represented a turnout of 55 percent of the number of registered voters and a whopping 80.6 percent of the town's population."
Perhaps there are a lot of ideological reasons for liberals to be upset about Sessions becoming attorney general. But I don't think the character attacks on the man can be taken seriously.