nominations

Blistering Coretta Scott King Letter Opposing Jeff Sessions’ Judicial Nomination Kept Secret For 30 Years

When Jeff Sessions was nominated to a federal judgeship in 1986, the late civil rights activist Coretta Scott King was among those who opposed his confirmation. King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., sent senators a nine-page statement opposing Sessions’ confirmation as a federal judge.  Sen. Strom Thurmond, who chaired the Judiciary Committee at the time, kept the letter out of the public record. And, as the Washington Post has noted, “The current Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), has not previously released the letter, which committee rules grant him the sole authority to reveal.”

Now that the statement and a cover letter from Coretta Scott King has been published by the Washington Post, it is easy to see why Republicans kept it out of the public eye for so long.

In the short cover letter to her longer statement, King wrote:

Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.

In the statement, King explained that the organization whose activists were targeted for prosecution by Sessions was created as an outgrowth of voting rights efforts in Selma and neighboring Perry County in the 1960s. Sessions continues to defend that effort; as PFAW’s Marge Baker noted in a statement on the first day of Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Sessions “brushed off the allegations of racism and Republicans and Democrats alike determined were credible in 1986, and he doubled down on his unsuccessful prosecution of voting rights activists.”

Coretta Scott King noted that while the Voting Rights Act led to real progress, Blacks still fell “far short of having equal participation in the electoral process.” She continued:

It has been a long up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.

The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.

Among the witnesses testifying this week against Sessions’ confirmation as U.S. attorney general was one of MLK’s closest colleagues, Rep. John Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture on “Bloody Sunday” when voting rights marchers were violently attacked in Selma, Alabama. 

PFAW

Will Sessions Follow the Long Tradition of Recusal?

Both ethics and history make clear that Sessions should recuse himself from his own confirmation vote.
PFAW

Opposition to Sessions Nomination for Attorney General

People For the American Way sent this letter to Senate and Judiciary Committee leaders opposing the nomination of Senator Jefferson Sessions to become Attorney General of the United States.
PFAW

Senators Should Watch This Video from the Federal Judiciary

Senators who attack nominees for representing criminals in court could use this lesson from America's federal judges.
PFAW

Contempt for the Constitution Shows in Opposition to Adegbile

Today's shameful demagoguery against Debo Adegbile slights the constitutional protections that keep us free.
PFAW

PFAW Calls Senate Vote on Adegbile “A Triumph of Demagoguery”

Today the Senate voted to block the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice despite extensive qualifications, an extraordinary career and a record of commitment to civil rights. People For the American Way Vice President Marge Baker issued the following statement:

“This vote is deeply disappointing for anyone who cares about civil rights. There’s no question that Debo is extraordinarily well qualified for this position. He’s worked for years as a lawyer addressing important civil rights issues in our country, and he possesses an unquestionably brilliant legal mind. Someone like Debo Adegbile is exactly the kind of person that the President and the Senate should want in a key DOJ post.

“Unfortunately, this nomination has been swept up in the poisonous atmosphere that’s engulfed Capitol Hill. Instead of praising Debo for taking on important, challenging issues in our justice system, his opponents rushed to twist and distort his record.

“Attacking an attorney for representing an unpopular criminal client is a toxic strategy for winning a political fight and deeply disruptive to the American ideal of everyone deserving a fair hearing before a court of law. Today’s vote is a triumph of demagoguery.”

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Cruz Holds Up Government Over Good Government Measure

There is no shortage of senators opposed to the DISCLOSE Act. But while any of them will no doubt bloviate on why shining a light on campaign ad expenditures somehow limits free speech, junior Texas Senator Ted Cruz has taken his distaste for sunshine to a new level this month by holding the Federal Communications Commission hostage over the matter. Luckily, Sen. Cruz has folded, in part due to his dwindling stock among GOP leaders.

With two seats vacant on the FCC, the Senate Commerce committee held confirmation hearings this summer on candidates to fill the commission. While Michael O’Rielly, an advisor to Sen. Cornyn of Texas, faced a breezy nomination hearing in September, nominee Tom Wheeler’s June hearing grabbed media attention thanks to Sen. Cruz. Mr. Wheeler, a long time industry leader and President Obama’s nominee to chair the Commission, was asked by the senator for his thoughts on the FCC’s role in campaign ad disclosure. When Mr. Wheeler replied frankly that he did not know enough about the matter and could not answer, Sen. Cruz threatened to hold up the confirmation process until he was given a different answer.

Once the federal government reopened this month, the Senate was poised to pass the two nominees so that the FCC could handle its full docket of work. Then Sen. Cruz caused a new shutdown, this time blocking a unanimous consent confirmation vote for Mr. Wheeler because he wanted the presumptive chairman of the FCC to effectively set policy without the resources of the Commission at his disposal. With Mr. Wheeler’s vote tied to Mr. O’Rielly’s, the FCC was thus left without a chairman and its fifth commissioner. In the Senate, there are only two ways to overcome a hold like Sen. Cruz’s. The first is for the senator in question to remove his hold, while the other is to override the senator by way of a cloture vote requiring a supermajority of 60 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to call Sen. Cruz on his bluff Monday night. Sources have indicated that, given Sen. Cruz’s particularly vocal role in this month’s government shutdown,  he has little clout among his Senate GOP peers. With a losing cloture vote imminent, it looks like Sen. Cruz set up a meeting Tuesday with Mr. Wheeler to hash out the nominee’s thoughts on disclosure with the senator. Mr. Wheeler came out of the meeting saying that this move by the FCC was not a priority, which mollified the Texas statesman. It is worth noting that this does not mean the FCC won’t take up disclosure rules  for broadcasters airing political ads under a Wheeler chairmanship.

Sen. Cruz has regarded the FCC as an enemy in his anti-disclosure fight since March when Florida’s senior senator, Bill Nelson (who saw  almost $10 million spent against him by outside organizations last November), addressed the issue. Sen. Nelson pointed out during a Committee hearing (at the 2:06:35 mark) that the FCC must require full on-air disclosure of campaign ad sponsors, and that this was not limited to just the umbrella entity (see Section 73.1212 for the authorizing language’s full text). He went on to say that the Supreme Court looked approvingly on disclosure in its Citizens United decision. Sen. Cruz’s response was to call such a reading “overtly partisan,” and that it would “undermine the integrity of the Commission,” which he stressed is non-partisan (2:28:05).

Yes, Sen. Cruz called the FCC non-partisan, then turned around and used it as a partisan tool to lock the Senate up over the matter of campaign disclosure, all while trying to force an agency nominee to set policy before he steps foot in the door. 

Both Mr. Wheeler and Mr. O’Rielly got their Senate confirmation votes yesterday.

PFAW Foundation
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