People For the American Way

Why We Can’t Trust Jeff Sessions To Be The “People’s Lawyer”

News and Analysis

A number of events this week, including actions by President Trump and some highly concerning statements from attorney general nominee Senator Jeff Sessions, make it all the more clear that we can’t trust Sessions to be the “people’s lawyer” tasked with defending and protecting the rights of all Americans:

  • This morning, Trump signaled that he’d instruct the Justice Department to investigate voter fraud, after claiming without any evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. It should go without saying that voter fraud requires someone to vote twice, impersonate another voter at the polls, or another similar action. Simply having one’s name appear twice in the voter rolls, or a person having yet to be removed from the voter rolls after passing away, is not voter fraud. But Trump signaled in his announcement that he–and Sessions, if he is confirmed–will use cases like these to promote the myth of widespread fraud as an excuse to further voter suppression. The investigations we really need are into the discriminatory effects of voter suppression. Yet there’s little hope that Sessions will enforce the remaining portions of the Voting Rights Act, given his established hostility toward voting rights. Already, the Justice Department has asked for a delay in case challenging a draconian voter ID law in Texas that a lower court found to be racially discriminatory.
  • It’s becoming more and more clear that we could have a president and attorney general who simply do not understand nor care that religious discrimination is at odds with the very fabric of our nation. In practice, Trump’s expected executive order halting refugee resettlement from certain countries would specifically discriminate against Muslims. As the Washington Post reported, Sessions was “deeply involved in the extended debate” over Trump’s planned orders. Just as disturbingly, in answers to Senator Coons’ follow-up questions after his confirmation hearings, Sessions failed to rule out mass internment of U.S. citizens and residents based on religious identity. While he acknowledged that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was “unjustified,” he would only state that internment shouldn’t happen “without a clear legal basis.” Our Constitution allows for no possible internment based on where people are from, what religion they practice, or any other factor. It’s ominous that the person who could be the next attorney general disagrees.
  • The Justice Department delayed hearings on a pending consent decree that would mandate police reforms in the city of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. Sessions has previously called consent decrees “dangerous” and said they’re a “run around the democratic process.”
  • Sessions continues to fail to recognize his responsibility to police this administration’s potential conflicts of interest. Sessions was clearly personally invested in the election and in Trump’s presidency, so stating to Senate Judiciary Committee members that he sees no basis to recuse himself from matters like investigating Russian interference in our elections or enforcement of the STOCK Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause is deeply troubling.
  • Sessions’ responses to Sen. Blumenthal’s hearing follow-up questions reinforce the fear that he won’t stand up for civil rights: Sessions refused to acknowledge that “racism against blacks is still a prevalent and systemic problem,” that Black Lives Matter isn’t “a racist group” or “a roving lynch mob,” or that “people of color” isn’t “a racist phrase designed…to enforce the fascist hierarchy.”

Senators have the responsibility to properly vet presidential nominees and vote against them if they’re not up to the task at hand. Sessions’ failure to respect fundamental constitutional rights makes it absolutely necessary that senators to do everything they can to stop his confirmation.