Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General of the United States, was born in the now historical city of Selma, Alabama in 1946. A Distinguished Eagle Scout and son of parents with primarily English ancestry, Sessions’ early story makes him a competitive candidate for any Republican ticket. It was most likely this background and his J.D. from the University of Alabama School of Law which prompted president Ronald Reagan in 1986 to nominate him to be a judge on the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. He was only the second person in 50 years to have been rejected a federal judgeship by the senate.
The confirmation hearing for Reagan's nomination came after a controversial court case that would come to be known as the “Marion 3.” The Marion 3 were a group of black members of the Perry County Civic League accused of engaging in voter fraud, specifically by tampering with absentee ballots. The Washington Post reported that “this case,” which was tried in 1985, “was a key issue in Sessions’s 1986 confirmation hearing.”
In part, the Marion 3 were a “key issue” because three years before their case was brought to court, a jury had found “serious problems” in voter fraud allegations that could have compromised the “right of black Perry County citizens to vote.” Despite the jury having asked for a federal investigation into these allegations, Sessions, then the State Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, did nothing. Nonetheless, it only took jurors in the Marion 3 case three hours to acquit them of all charges.
The case of the Marion 3 was different from the 1982 case in that their allegations, if proven to be true, would benefit the voting rights restriction agenda which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has accused Sessions of advocating. In their official statement, the NAACP warned Americans of Sessions’ “historically weak and questionable support for voting rights,” which they followed up with by posting a complete history of such record. By contrast, Sessions has admitted to having called the NAACP “un-American,” due to their “trying to force civil rights down people’s throat,” he has said the Ku Klux Klan “was okay,” before finding out they smoked pot, and witnesses testify to him having warned a black staffer to be “careful of what he said to white folks.”
This sort of rhetoric would be best advised to remain in the past. However, Session’s recent appointment as US Attorney General has raised questions about his civility and impartiality, questions that date back to 1986. Questions whose answers stopped Sessions from becoming a judge of the federal court. Days before his confirmation, a full copy of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 statement and testimony on Jeff Session’s District Court nomination surfaced. In it, Mrs. King points to the Marion 3 and a political motivation to suppress black voters as evidence to reject Session’s appointment all those years ago. “The irony,” she writes, “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;” namely, the restriction of black participation in the public space.
In an attempt to breathe new life into these words, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren on February 7, 2017, read Mrs. King’s letter aloud, to the Senate floor, in the hope that Mrs. King’s words would spark reconsideration among members of the Republican Party. She made it three complete sentences into the letter before being formally silenced by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and asked by the chair to return to her seat. McConnell cited Rule XIX Section 2., which has been reprinted in its entirety as the following:
No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.
This rule effectively delegitimized Warren’s remarks on the grounds of slander toward a fellow sitting senator. According to The Atlantic, there has been only one other incidence (in 1979) of this rule being invoked.
Just a month before the Senate silenced Elizabeth Warren for reading the admonishing words of Mrs. King, NAACP President Cornell Brooks was arrested while participating “in a voluntarily act of civil disobedience,” by occupying Senator Sessions’ office in protest of his nomination. On March 3, nearly two months after his arrest, Mr. Brooks met with Sessions. The meeting happened in light of Sessions’ rescinding a federal lawsuit issued to the state of Texas by the Obama administration’s Justice Department. The suit was filed in order to bar the Texan city of Pasadena from redistricting in an attempt to suppress the Latino population from gaining City Council seats. While a federal appeals court said the “law needed to be softened because it discriminated against minority voters,” Sessions’ withdrawal of the previous administration’s lawsuit leaves Pasedana free to pass whatever measures it wishes. Needless to say, the president of the NAACP left Sessions' with unchanged opinions.
What’s the difference between Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) and Obama’s? It has to do with a Supreme Court ruling on Shelby County V. Holder, which, in 2013, redactedSection 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The result: less jurisdictions have to gain preclearance from the federal government regarding the means by which they conduct their voting. This means that more districts and jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination are free to pass new voter laws without having to appeal to the DOJ for approval. Even with this new freedom, however, Section 2 prohibits any law that discriminates on the basis of color, race, or even language in some cases. So the crucial difference between the DOJs lies in their interpertaion of whether a law truly discriminates on these grounds. In the case of Pasadena, Obama’s thought it did, while Sessions thought it did not. In his own words: According to Sessions, however, "Shelby County has never had a history of denying voters."
Sessions’ precedence is dangerous. Becuase of Shelby County, in the 2016 election alone, 14 states passed legislation on voting restrictions. Ironically, Alabama was one of them. According to The Nation, Alabama passed a “strict photo-ID requirement to vote.” A photo requirement alone forced 31 DMV offices to close down, eight of which existed in the 10 counties with the highest population of minorities, making it more difficult to show up to vote. Typically, legislation like this would have the possibility of being repealed if challenged by the federal court, or even local jurisdictions. However, under Sessions’ DOJ, such actions seem unlikely.
Getting people to vote should not be a contentious issue, stopping them from voting is. Voting restrictions have a long and ugly past, and under Sessions, they will likely enjoy a creeping return. Claims of voter fraud along the lines of the Marion 3 are a commonplace tactic to ensure minority voters stay out of the polls. The more people with access to vote, the more likely those people vote along democratic lines. So while political officials circulate talking points and patriotic justifications for their actions against the right to vote, I have for you a few facts to help keep your head on straight.
- Mr. Brooks once said that the "The NAACP is focused on removing the barriers of voting and the obstacles to vote and to do so in a non-partisan way all across the country.” Mr. Sessions has called the NAACP “un-American.”
- Mrs. King has warned of Sessions abusing his power to “chill the free exercise of the ballot.” Senator Warren was silenced for reminding us of that.
- The Marion 3 were charged with voter fraud, and their white predecessors recieved no investigation.
- Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is one of two individuals in the world to be rejected an appointment to the US District Court. He is now US Attorney General.
These are the facts. Remember: just breathe, and remember the facts.
And, like always: If you were not particularly fond of these facts and would have preferred I talked about Russia, then I would strongly advise you to check out Vox's article on the possibility he may have committed perjury.
However, if the facts made you more infuriated because they were about Jeff Sessions generally, regardless of whether Russia was involved, then please make your through this link in order to donate to the NAACP and all their incredible work.