President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly chosen Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general of the United States, raising concern and ire among civil rights advocates who said the former federal prosecutor's record is marred by racism as well as anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
"If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible, and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man," Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) declared in a searing statement. "No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions."
"It is outrageous and outright dangerous to have one of the most racist politicians in Congress, who has made it his life's mission to hurt Latinos, immigrants, and African Americans, as the head of the Department of Justice."
—Cristobal J. Alex, Latino Victory Fund
"The Senate rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship during the Reagan administration because of racist statements he made and for falsely prosecuting black political activists in Alabama," Berman noted. "He opposed the Voting Rights Act, the country's most important civil rights law."
Even before Sessions got the nod, the Los Angeles Times reported on how, under a Trump administration, experts "predict the Justice Department...will be less likely to sue states over voting restrictions that target the poor or minorities, to hold police departments accountable for abuses, or fight in court for the rights of transgender people."
"Also vulnerable," wrote the LA Times, "are Justice Department guidelines set under President [Barack] Obama that sought more lenient sentences for nonviolent offenders and restricted racial profiling and surveillance of Muslims."
With conservative Sessions at the helm, those predictions seem even more prescient.
The Washington Post reported Friday:
The appointment of Sessions is expected to bring sweeping change to the Justice Department as it operated under Loretta E. Lynch and her predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr., who, when he was nominated to be the first black attorney general, pledged to make rebuilding the civil rights division his top priority.
Several former Justice officials predicted that Sessions would reverse the emphasis on civil rights and criminal-justice reform that Holder put in place.
"From his time as U.S. attorney through his service on the Judiciary Committee, he has left serious doubts about whether he would faithfully enforce civil rights laws as attorney general," said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. "The civil rights division was gutted during the last Republican administration, and the burden of proof is on Senator Sessions to show that he would not follow that same path."
The ACLU's statement on Sessions reflected similar anxieties.
"Sen. Sessions has called the ACLU un-American and communist, assertions we flatly reject," said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero on Friday.
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"His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations," Romero pointed out. "As the nation's highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans. 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."
Meanwhile, Latino Victory Fund president Cristobal J. Alex described the selection of Sessions as "a direct attack against communities of color and the LGBTQ community."
"It is outrageous and outright dangerous to have one of the most racist politicians in Congress, who has made it his life's mission to hurt Latinos, immigrants, and African Americans, as the head of the Department of Justice," Alex added. "Throughout his career Sessions has proven his contempt for Latinos by leading the charge in the fight against birthright citizenship, immigration reform, legal immigration, and sanctuary cities."
"Amid a series of ominous appointments, naming Jeff Sessions as attorney general is especially pernicious because that office is our most important federal bulwark against the forces of bigotry and hatred that affect communities of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, the LGBT community, and people with disabilities."
—Isaiah J. Poole, People's Action
The group, he said, would "fight tooth and nail to ensure that Sessions doesn't get confirmed."
Grassroots group People's Action also vowed to mobilize its national network against Sessions' appointment, which communications director Isaiah J. Poole said was "one more way the Trump administration shows its racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist colors."
"Amid a series of ominous appointments, naming Jeff Sessions as attorney general is especially pernicious because that office is our most important federal bulwark against the forces of bigotry and hatred that affect communities of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, the LGBT community, and people with disabilities," Poole said. "At a time when the principle of equality under the law is under attack on so many fronts—including the right to vote—we cannot accept Sessions or anyone of his ilk to lead the Justice Department."
What's more, said Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Sessions not only has been a leading opponent of sensible, comprehensive immigration reform, he has associated with anti-immigrant groups we consider to be deeply racist, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Security Policy."
Others responded to the nomination—which came alongside other controversial Cabinet choices—on Twitter:
Sen. Sessions as AG is deeply troubling, and supports an old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values.
— NAACP (@NAACP) November 18, 2016
needless to say, a president who cares about "healing" and "unity" does not pick Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to head DOJ
— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) November 18, 2016
If you said "wait and see" about Trump: he is building an administration devoted to attacking Muslim Americans and freedom of religion.
— Robert McNees (@mcnees) November 18, 2016
Sessions is actively anti-criminal-justice-reform. Fed reform obvi dead; q is whether fed efforts to help state reform also dead.
— Dara Lind (@DLind) November 18, 2016
4) It won't end there. With AG Sessions, we're likely to see trumped-up "investigations" into every civil rights group in America.
— Matthew Chapman (@fawfulfan) November 18, 2016
Jeff Sessions, considered too racist to be a judge in 80's, is Trump's AG. Best to go back to sleep, America. I'll wake u up when it's over.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) November 18, 2016
Another troubling signal: former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted Friday in support of Trump's selection of Sessions, along with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for national security adviser and alt-right media mogul Stephen Bannon for chief strategist.