Civil Rights

Sessions Black Critics and Supporters

By Frederick H. Lowe

U.S. Sen. Corey Booker
U.S. Sen. Corey Booker

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, (D., N.J.), became the first sitting U.S. Senator in history to testify against another sitting U.S. Senator when on Tuesday he opposed the nomination of the Sen. Jeff Sessions (D. Ala.) for U.S.  Attorney General, although the two men worked together to secure  Congressional Gold Medals for Rosa Parks, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) and others who he called foot soldiers in the civil rights movement.

“Some [other Senators] are unhappy with me breaking this tradition,” Booker said as he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee which was in the second day and final day of hearing testimony concerning Sessions’ nomination. Opposition to Sessions’ nomination led mostly by blacks has grown because of the dismal civil rights record, which he and his supporters dispute.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions

Booker cited Sessions’ testimony a day earlier that he would follow the rule of the law, but Booker said law and order without justice was unobtainable.”  Booker testified that Sessions won’t expand the rule of law to assist blacks, women and immigrants.

“America needs an attorney general who is resolute and determined to bend the arc. Sen. Sessions’ record does not speak to that desire, intention or will,” Booker testified.

Booker was one of six African –American men who testified either for or against Sessions’ nomination. Each man was allotted five minutes but that did not stop them from sniping at the Judiciary Committee and each other.

Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District
Congressman Cedric Richmond

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D., La.) and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, angrily told committee members that having a senator [Booker], a living civil rights legend [Lewis ]  and a House member [Richmond] testify at the end of the hearing was the “equivalent of being made to go to the back of the bus.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, committee chairman, did not respond to the comment during the hearing which was interrupted by demonstrators opposed to Sessions’ nomination.  After the witnesses completed their testimony, Grassley  immediately adjourned the hearing.

Lewis, a civil rights icon, noted that since Sessions election to the U.S. Senate he has turned a “blind eye to unrelenting efforts to  suppress minority voting rights the 2006 VRA [Voting Rights Reauthorization].

John Lewis
U.S Rep. John Lewis

“His carefully crafted speeches mirrored those of others who declared the Voting Rights Act a relic of the past,” Lewis said.  Although Sessions voted to reauthorize VRA in 1996, Lewis  said he never hear Sessions praise the VRA for the changes and protections against present-day, ongoing, discriminatory practices in  jurisdictions previously covered by the preclearance formula.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the heart and soul of the Voting Rights Act, minorities and civil rights advocates were in mourning, while Senator Sessions was jubilant, Lewis said.

“He called the decision good news for the South,” Lewis added.

Sessions had his black-male supporters.

Willie Huntley, former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, said Sessions prosecuted a police officer for use of excessive force.

Huntley oversaw general criminal trial cases for Sessions from 1987 to 1991. “He [Sessions] was always available to me,” Huntley said.

William Smith, former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Sessions a strong conservative who is fair and honest.

“I know Jeff Sessions,” Smith said. ” I have been to his house.  I have eaten dinner at his house. I have written speeches for him. He has fought for sentencing reform. He has not shown me a hint of racism.”

Smith who was sitting at the far end of the table shared by the other panelists scowled at them and said,”Not one of you has spent 30 minutes in the same room with him.”



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