WASHINGTON (CN) – President-elect Donald Trump selected Sen. Jeff Sessions on Friday to serve as his attorney general. A hard-line outlier of the Republican Party, Sessions was one of the first prominent lawmakers to support Trump as others in the GOP resisted the businessman’s surge in the presidential primaries.
Trump’s announcement Friday also includes his picks for director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, and national-security adviser, ret. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. As with Sessions, each of the men is a controversial pick.
Sessions, a former state attorney general, Sessions has represented Alabama in the Senate since 1996 and sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
President Ronald Reagan nominated the immigration hardliner for a federal judgeship in 1986, but the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected him after witnesses testified that Sessions made racist remarks in the past, including saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nevertheless praised Trump’s decision Friday to appoint a member of his caucus.
“I strongly support the president-elect’s intention to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next United States attorney general,” McConnell said in a statement. “Jeff is principled, forthright and hardworking. He cares deeply about his country and the department he will be nominated to lead.”
McConnell also called on his colleagues to proceed be “fair and expeditious” with Sessions during confirmation hearings.
That process will all but certainly take into account Sessions’ past stances on civil-rights issues. Advocacy groups have already been critical of the decision.
“As the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in a statement. “In his confirmation hearings, senators, the media and the American public should closely examine his stances on these key issues to ensure we can have confidence in his ability to uphold the Constitution and our laws on behalf of all Americans.”
Sessions made headlines for his opposition of a sentencing-reform bill that enjoyed fairly strong bipartisan support in the Senate, though he was early in taking action to eliminate the disparity between crack and powdered-cocaine charges.
This shift on criminal-justice issues makes Sessions stance on the issues “complicated,” said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives with The Sentencing Project.
“I take some comfort in knowing that he has had exposure to that, that he’s not unfamiliar with where criminal justice is,” Gotsch said.
But still, Gotsch largely said Sessions’ appointment is a bad sign for advocates of criminal-justice reform.