President-Elect Donald Trump has selected Alabama senator Jeff Sessions to be the United States attorney general under his administration. A Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship in 1986 because it deemed his past actions and comments to be racist.
The attorney general serves as the head of the Department of Justice and is the chief law enforcement officer for the entire federal government. The person who fills it has massive influence over how issues like civil rights, police violence and criminal justice reform are handled nationwide. The position is currently held by Loretta Lynch, the first Black woman to fill the role.
The New York Times details why his own party refused to expand Sessions’ power in ’86:
In testimony before the committee, former colleagues said that Mr. Sessions had referred to the N.A.A.C.P., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” An African-American federal prosecutor then, Thomas H. Figures, said Mr. Sessions had referred to him as “boy” and testified that Mr. Sessions said the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot.” Mr. Sessions dismissed that remark as a joke.
Mr. Sessions was also accused of speaking disparagingly of the Voting Rights Act and the stringent oversight it placed on Southern states.
Sessions, who was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1946, has previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama and as Alabama attorney general. He has been a U.S. senator since 1997. His Senate website repeatedly refers to undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens,” he introduced a Blue Lives Matter bill in 2015 and he is opposed to equal rights for the LGBT community. He was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump and was considered as a possible running mate.
Republican Senator Richard C. Shelby, who also serves on behalf of Alabama, supports the move. “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,” he told The Washington Post.
But Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson is concerned, per this emailed statement:
There’s no other way to say it: Jeff Sessions is a racist…. As attorney general he represents a threat to the legal rights of Black people across the country, and the Black prosecutors and civil servants he will oversee in the Department of Justice. Our question for members of the United States Senate is simple: do they support racism, or do they not? In 1986, the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee refused to confirm Sessions to the federal bench. In 2017, the Senate should be just as unequivocal: “no” to racism means “no” to Jeff Sessions.