Jeff Sessions: The Controversial Attorney General Nominee
On paper, Jeff Sessions is a conventional nomination for Attorney General, checking many of the traditional boxes used to judge candidates for the position.
A lawyer by trade prior to becoming a Republican Senator for the state of Alabama, Mr. Sessions had practiced in many areas of the law; he has held such positions as the Attorney General for Alabama and the United States Attorney for Alabama’s Southern District, as well as worked in private practice.
Although his legal resume clearly makes him suitable for the job, he is one of the most prominent cabinet nominees that Democrats are seeking to block the confirmation of and an object of criticism by civil rights groups throughout the country. These positions and criticisms are rooted in both Mr. Sessions’ history and current political views.
Mr. Sessions’ initially rose to national prominence in 1986 when he was nominated for a district court judgeship by President Ronald Reagan, a nomination that was denied by the Senate Judiciary Committee. During the period following the nomination numerous elements of Mr. Sessions’ character and career came forward that left both Democrat and Republican members of the committee dissatisfied with the nominee.
These included calling the NAACP “un-American,” a white civil rights lawyer “probably” a “traitor to his race”, and the Ku Klux Klan “okay until I found out they smoked pot”. In practice as the Attorney for Alabama’s Southern District, he was also described as uninterested in prosecuting civil rights cases, a point that Democratic Senator Al Franken focused on during Mr. Sessions’ judiciary committee hearing earlier this month.
His supporters argue that many of these accusations were either unfounded or mischaracterizations and that they were a portrayal of a man 30 years ago, not the one being nominated today. This might be true, but his detractors’ present criticism go beyond accusations from 30 years ago.
Current criticisms are based on his role as the Attorney General of Alabama in fighting against LGBT rights, his hardline stance on immigration, his categorization of The Voting Rights Act as “intrusive”, his pro-life views, and his Senate voting record against bills focused on civil rights for minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBT community. These criticisms go beyond individuals simply disagreeing with his political views, but ask whether Mr. Sessions will be able to properly handle the duties of upholding the civil rights, abortion, and gay marriage laws that he disagrees with.
This question was central to the concerns raised during his judiciary committee hearing.
For these reasons, this nomination has received a near unprecedented amount of disapproval, as demonstrated by 1,400 law school professors, the NAACP, and the ACLU denouncing the nomination as well as a sitting US Senator testifying against him: a first in US history.
Many Republican Senators are enthusiastic about the nomination and previous co-workers have said that he is a man that seeks justice for all people, and that portrayals of Sessions as racist and anti-civil rights are false. Members on both side of the political aisle have spoken favourably of Mr. Sessions as a person, but many Democrats do not feel that their amicable attitude towards the man can justify him becoming the top law enforcement agent in the country.
The Senate will likely vote on his nomination this week.
Henry Federer (1L) is a Staff Writer for Juris Diction.