Civil Rights Groups Say Sessions Is Unfit to Be Attorney General

WASHINGTON (CN) – More than 140 civil rights organizations signed an open letter delivered to the U.S. Senate on Thursday, urging it to reject Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general.

The eight-page letter highlighted Sessions’ conservative stances on voting rights, LGBT and women’s rights, and his hard-line position on immigration reform.

Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, addresses reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on Thursday morning.. She and other representatives of the civil rights community circulated a letter in the Senate asking it to reject Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general. Photo by Tim Ryan.
Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, addresses reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on Thursday morning.. She and other representatives of the civil rights community circulated a letter
in the Senate asking it to reject Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general. Photo by Tim Ryan.

It also highlights his 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship, which failed when it was revealed during confirmation hearings that Sessions had made racially insensitive remarks, including telling an African-American colleague to be careful of what he said to “white folks.”

Witnesses also told the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot.”

Signatories to the letter include the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and a host of immigration, voting, and minority rights groups.

The letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, and its ranking member, Sen. Patrick Leahy, calling on them to give strict scrutiny to Trump’s pick to head the Justice Department.

“The collegiality that ordinarily governs Senate decorum is no substitute for, and must not supersede, the Senate’s profoundly important duty to vigorously and fairly review each nominee who comes before it,” the letter reads. “We believe that based on this review, there can be only one conclusion: Senator Sessions is the wrong person to serve as the U.S. Attorney General.”

It assails Sessions for praising the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, as well as for calling an immigration reform bill “terrorist assistance,” and for voting against a bill that expanded federal hate crimes laws to cover crimes against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The letter also criticizes Sessions for being one of the few Republicans to stand in opposition to a bipartisan sentencing reform bill that has been stalled in the Senate.

At a press conference outside the Supreme Court Thursday the groups were unwilling to provide an alternative name who they would find more palatable than Sessions but insisted their opposition was not simply because Sessions is a Republican.

“The pool is not just people who serve [in Congress] or endorse Donald Trump,” Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, said at the press conference. “There is a pool of conservative legal minds and prosecutors. The list is long, potentially, if Donald Trump would think outside of just the people who supported him and just the people who rallied his base in this election.”

Grassley met with Sessions, who serves on his committee, earlier this week and said he hopes to hold a “fair” hearing on his nomination, possibly before Trump is even inaugurated.

“Democratic members of the committee have pledged a fair process,” Grassley said in a statement after the meeting. “Based on those commitments, I trust the other side will resist what some liberal interest groups are clearly hoping for – an attack on his character.”