Well aren't we lucky. We've increased the number of (supposedly) Democratic senators by one, and in exchange, have gotten Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not only does this committee hold hearings to confirm the next Supreme Court Justice now that Justice Souter has retired, but it also is responsible for civil rights cases. Joy.
Why do I say supposedly when referring to Arlen Specter, our newest Democratic senator? After crossing the aisle last week to join the Democrats, Mr. Specter was reported to have told President Obama that he was a loyal Democrat. This was reported by the Washington Post and by George Stephanopolous. Four days later (an extraordinary amount of time to let such a statement go unchallenged in Washington) Mr. Specter appeared on Meet the Press this past Sunday claiming "I did not say that. I did not say that I was a loyal Democrat." hmmmm. I see problems ahead. Where does that fit into this post? We'll get to that.
Anyhoo. Mr. Sessions. Twenty-three years ago, Sessions appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as an appointee to a Federal Judgeship under President Reagan. Unfortunately for Mr. Sessions (extremely fortunately for the rest of us as these judgeships are lifetime appointments - think Jay Bybee) he was not confirmed.
Sort of an interesting turn of the circle that Sessions went on to become a Senator and then this week to be appointed to this committee, right? Actually, although committee assignments are all about seniority, this one is all about history. The Republican leadership received a massive amount of pressure (although they certainly didn't need it - they saw the exquisite irony of this appointment) to appoint Sessions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, so they did. The deal? He sits on the committee until 2010, at which time he gives up the seat to Chuck Grassley who would normally have taken the seat. Neat huh? Just long enough to seat a new Supreme. And Specter? At some point, the full Senate votes on whomever the Committee has confirmed. So, will Specter be a Democrat or a Republican?
So why wasn't Sessions confirmed as a Federal Judge? Think racist. Extreme racist. His issue (they all have an issue) was voting rights. At the time, he had prosecuted 3 men for voter fraud in the 1984 election - 1 of whom had been an aide to Martin Luther King Jr. This after finding 14 possibly fraudulent ballots (out of 1.7 million cast) and hours spent interviewing black voters in predominantly black counties. (By the way, all three were acquitted after 4 hours deliberation - that jury wasn't stupid. They knew how hard he had to search to dummy up a case). He referred to an African American Assistant US Attorney as "boy." He claimed that the NAACP was un-American and communist inspired. He called a white civil rights attorney a "disgrace to his race" for litigating civil rights cases (remember, the Senate Judiciary Committee is responsible for civil rights cases). I could go on, but I have other stuff to do this week.
A couple of interesting points. Many articles are being written all over the blogosphere and in the mainstream press (and the not so mainstream press) about who President Obama might choose to replace Justice Souter. Many articles are being written about Senator Sessions and many, many talk shows are discussing both of these issues. You have to do a little digging to find out the details of Session's history.
MSNBC's "First Read" penned by White House political reporters including Chuck Todd would - you would expect - go into some depth, right? Today, the article posted is called SCOTUS POLITICS: Meet Jeff Sessions which you can read here which barely references this controversy, simply stating that "...Sessions had once called the NAACP an ‘un-American’ group, while another raised issues about remarks Sessions made about the Ku Klux Klan.” Not a thing about his direct, racist comments to others which are a little more potent than third hand, watered down remarks that really don't give any depth to the issue of his racism.
As a senator, Sessions was one of only nine to oppose Senator McCain's anti-torture amendment. He supported Vice-President Cheney's proposal to exempt the CIA from any anti-torture legislation. When the bill to repeal the estate tax was failing, he wanted to use Hurricane Katrina as a push-back, saying that businesses who had had a death might now be more likely to support the bill. What a delightful guy. He scores the lowest on immigration, environmental protection, global warming, and of course, civil rights. When the Republican party in the form of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity talk about the purity of the party, this is who they mean.
Want to find out more? Here are some links.
The Senator Who's Worse Than Lott
Profile of Sessions by CQ Politics
Looking for a Corpse to Make a Case
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