Since being elected, Donald Trump has wasted no time appointing plenty of god-awful people to positions of power, but most concerning of all so far has been Jeff Sessions, his pick for Attorney General. Sessions has a history of attacking civil rights organizations and even ””“joking”“” that he thought the KKK was “OK until [he] found out they smoked pot.” I thought jokes were supposed to be funny but oops, guess not!
Since his nomination by Trump was met with resounding backlash due to his racist comments, which, years ago, stopped him from being appointed to a federal judge but somehow didn’t disqualify him for the position of Attorney General, Sessions went on to defend his “strong record” on civil rights, only to be destroyed by receipt-waving media and, on Tuesday, Democratic senators at his senate confirmation hearing.
First, Sen. Al Franken called Sessions out on his blatant lie that he’d worked on “20 or 30” desegregation cases, which simply wasn’t true. Sessions eventually had to shakily admit that, “Well… the records don’t show that there were 20 or 30 actually filed cases. The number would be less than that.” According to a thorough investigation by The Atlantic, the number is actually closer to zero. Franken also attacked and dismantled Sessions’ claims to have “personally handled” numerous civil rights cases, revealing that by “personally handled” Sessions really meant he just signed off on them, and going on to expose Sessions for not even knowing the name of one Justice Department lawyer who worked on a case Sessions claimed to have been heavily involved in.
And of course, these revelations of Sessions’ dishonesty are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how problematic he is. Sessions has previously called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” claiming they “forced civil rights down the throats of people” which is somehow worse in his eyes than the KKK forcing racism down the throats of people, and as if enforcing the law that protects minorities’ rights is somehow a bad thing because it hurts the feelings of poor little racists. Sessions also allegedly once fought to “drop the case” against a KKK lynching in the 1980s, one attorney testified.
Watch Franken roast Sessions in the video below:
Of course, Sessions’ lies and hostility to civil rights weren’t the only things exposed in his confirmation hearing today. Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein also took it upon herself to thoroughly grill the man over his record on women’s rights, which includes sharp opposition to abortion and support for the Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding from going toward abortion for low-income women, with the exception of rape and threats to the woman’s life.
Sessions conceded that he would respect Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, but not without calling it “one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time,” and arguing that “it violated the constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law.”
Referring to a previous statement by President-elect Trump in which Trump promised to respect marriage equality as the “law of the land” but not abortion rights, Feinstein asked: “If you believe same-sex marriage is settled law, but a woman’s right to choose is not, what is the difference?” Sessions responded by insisting that those were Trump’s words and not his and insisting that he would respect abortion rights, which is comforting for, like, a minute until you realize that his extreme hostility toward reproductive rights means we can hardly expect him to defend them against TRAP laws, 20-week bans, mandatory waiting periods, etc.
Sessions proceeded to insist that he would, additionally, uphold the Hyde amendment and ensure that victims of rape and sex trafficking could receive federal funding to have abortions, and while he disavowed violence toward abortion providers, his vocal perceptions of abortion as a heinous and inhumane act hardly discourage acts of retaliation toward providers. It was just over a year ago that one Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado attracted a gunman deeply influenced by conservative portrayals of abortion as slaughtering living babies, and throughout history as well as in recent years, there have been too many similar incidents.
And despite Sessions’ tepid promises to respect reproductive rights not because he gives a damn about the women who rely on them, but because he begrudgingly accepts the rule of law, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont wasn’t about to let the dialogue on women’s rights end there. Leahy pressed Sessions on his opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) during its 2012 renewal, in which it was amended to offer protections to same-sex couples and Native Americans.
In 2013, Sessions claimed that adding those protections was purposely done not to, oh, I don’t know, protect vulnerable people from hateful scum like himself, but to make it attract “opposition,” and to portray Republicans like himself who opposed it as misogynists. To Sessions, the notion that LGBTQ people and Native Americans deserve rights and protection is so radical and far-fetched that any laws enforcing this must therefore be traps. The most he could say in response to Leahy on Tuesday is that he “will defend the statute if it’s reasonably defensible,” and apparently he’ll be the judge of what’s defensible or not.
You can watch Sessions’ full confirmation hearing in the video below, and as frankly horrifying as it is that this man will probably be our Attorney General, it’s still a delight to watch Democratic senators utterly demolish him. If his confirmation hearing proves anything, it’s that the man is awful and we can expect nothing but the absolute worst from him, but at the very least we can rely on the likes of Franken, Feinstein, and Leahy to hold him accountable.