Senator Sessions Has Black Friends. So, What?

by Dr. Elsie L. Scott, Director, Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center, Howard University

Many people offering support to Senator Jeff Sessions in his nomination for U.S. Attorney General have stated that he has black friends such as former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.  So, what?  Senator Strom Thurmond fathered a black child, who he financially supported, while at the same time he used his public service platform to try to deny basic rights to black citizens.

Throughout history, whites have been “friends” with and have had sex with black people while at the same time working to ensure that blacks do not have equal protection under the law.  What is most important to our survival and our thriving?  That he hired a black person or that he tried to suppress the black vote?

It is argued by some that Senator Sessions is being judged by actions he took and statements he made 30+ years ago. Let’s look at his Senate record.

Does it show that he would seek justice and equal treatment for all?  No, it doesn’t. He has consistently voted against the confirmation of judicial  and executive nominees who have been engaged in civil rights activities or who use their positions to support civil rights, e.g., Judge Wilhelmina Wright, Secretary of Education, John King, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  He voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. He has opposed immigration reform that would lead to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

We must not get caught up in symbolic politics such as Sessions’ sponsoring of the Congressional Gold Medal for Selma marchers of 50 years ago. It did not take courage, and it has little or no meaning when this symbolic gesture is placed against his support for Shelby County v. Holder and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965..

The position of Attorney General is the chief law enforcement position in the country.  Little, if anything, in Senator Sessions background indicates that he is the right person for Attorney General at this time in the history of the country.  Presently, the country is divided with blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Muslims and other minorities fearful of what will happen to them if Senator Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General. They are afraid that they will have nowhere to turn when they are discriminated against, physically assaulted, harassed, and subjected to voter intimidation and suppression.  They are afraid that he will make “states’ rights” the order of the day, leaving them hostage to local and state officials who will show their true colors with no threat of federal oversight.

In opposing the nomination of Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor in 2013, Senator Sessions stated: “he seems to have a strong bent toward allowing his own ideological and political views to affect his decisionmaking process–all of which is unacceptable for a high position in this government of the United States of America.”  Many argue that Senator Sessions has allowed his ideological and political view to affect his decision-making process. Does this meet Senator Sessions’ standard for the U.S. Attorney General?

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