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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 13, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 02
Judiciary Committee Dems go easy on Jeff Sessions
Section One
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Judiciary Committee Dems go easy on Jeff Sessions

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'If one is to be attorney general, they must be willing to continue the hallowed tradition in our country of fighting for justice for all, for equal justice, for civil rights,' Sen. Cory Booker told the Senate Judiciary Committee at its January 9 hearing on Donald Trump's nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general. 'Sen. Sessions' record does not speak to that desire or will.'

'Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job: to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights, and justice for all of our citizens,' Booker continued. 'In fact, at numerous times in his career, he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance these ideals.'

Booker was joined in his testimony against the Sessions nomination by civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis.

'It doesn't matter how Sen. Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who's going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people who need help, for people who have been discriminated against,' Lewis said.

'We all live in the same house - the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look out for all of us and not just for some of us,' he added.

Booker was alone among Democratic senators in openly opposing his Senate colleague, Sessions, although Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and a handful of other Democrats said afterwards that they intend to vote against confirming Sessions.

Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee questioned Sessions' record on civil rights, but in a very mild tone and without challenging many of his responses.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, for example, questioned Sessions on LGBT rights.

'You stated at a hearing that you're not sure women or people of different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. And then you said, 'I just don't see it.' Do you still believe that?' Leahy asked.

Sessions replied that it 'does not sound like something I said or intended to say.'

Leahy then corrected him, 'You did say it,' but without pursuing the question of whether women and LGBT Americans do, in fact, face discrimination.

Leahy then asked about Sessions' opposition to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which - among other provisions - offered federal protection against hate crimes to LGBT people.

'In 2010 you stated that expanding hate crimes protections to LGBT individuals was unwarranted, possibly unconstitutional& Do you still feel that way?' he asked.

Session replied, 'The law has been passed, the Congress has spoken, [and] you can be sure I will enforce it.'

Leahy did not ask if he would defend the law in court, in the event that its constitutionality was challenged.

Similarly, when Sessions was asked about his opposition to marriage equality, he was allowed to get away with a bland statement about enforcing settled law.

'[The] Supreme Court has ruled on that. The dissent was vigorous,' Sessions replied initially, before adding, 'The majority of the court has established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America, and I will follow that decision.'

Again he was not asked if he would defend the Supreme Court's Windsor and Obergefell decisions if they were challenged by new litigation - something that is not out of the question, in view of the fact that several states have refused to remove 'one man-one woman' marriage laws from the books.

The idea that an attorney general would decline to defend a law he felt was unconstitutional is not far-fetched. Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, for example, not only refused to defend DOMA in court but filed a brief advising the Supreme Court that the law was unconstitutional.

Sessions might very well do the same if the constitutionality of LGBT protections were challenged.

Sessions is also a supporter of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a law that would authorize anti-LGBT discrimination under cover of 'religious' convictions. Not a single Senate Democrat asked Sessions about his views on that bill, or on the relationship between First Amendment religious rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights for LGBT individuals.

Judiciary Committee Democrats also failed to even ask about Sessions' views on Title VII and Title IX, and whether those federal laws should afford protections to LGBT Americans. Sessions is on record stating that the Obama administration had no authority to reinterpret those laws to expand LGBT rights.

The Obama administration's pro-LGBT reading of those laws is currently being litigated in federal courts, and while the cases will not disappear with the change in administrations, a change in the Justice Department's attitude toward them might well torpedo rulings favorable to the LGBT community.

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