Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sessions vs Sotomayor


Jefferson Sessions supporters celebrate-- but left the weed home

Will Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL), the new ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, be looking for a way to get even with "the Democrats?" Sessions, then a mediocre Reagan-appointed U.S. Attorney for Alabama's Southern District, was rejected for a judgeship in 1986 by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now one of the most radical right extremists in Congress, and a lockstep obstructionist, Sessions will be leading the Republican opposition to whomever President Obama nominates to fill the Supreme Court opening.

One Villager hack, Jeffrey Rosen, while admitting he knows nothing about her, has claimed Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor might not be smart enough to be on the Supreme Court. Not as smart as John Roberts, the Chief Justice? Not as smart as Clarence Thomas. generally acknowledged to be even stupider than Roberts? Not as smart as George W. Bush? Or how about Jefferson Beauregard III?

Sotomayor grew up in a Puerto Rican working class family in the Bronx and managed to go to Princeton and then Yale. I can't swear to this but I'd take bets that, unlike George W. Bush, she wasn't a legacy student. Sessions, on the other hand, studied at Huntingdon College, a very academically non-rigorous Methodist Bible school in Montgomery. It was named, in 1934 for Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, a Methodist true believer. It is fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools but was found lacking by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. When Sessions graduated he took up law at the University of Alabama, presumably where he learned to speak English as a first language instead of in-tongues.

It's ironic that Rosen's hit piece was published by the formerly worthwhile New Republic because at the very end of 2002 the same magazine published a feature on the just re-elected sophomore senator, Jefferson Beauregard III, The Senator Who's Worse Than Lott-- Closed Sessions. The author, Sarah Wildman, makes a point what few Americans outside of Alabama understand-- or even know-- namely that Sessions has risen as far as he has not despite his virulent and unabashed racism, but because if it. But Sessions was the first of hundreds of right-wing Reagan judicial appointees to be turned down by the Senate.
Sessions was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. The year before his nomination to federal court, he had unsuccessfully prosecuted three civil rights workers-- including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr.-- on a tenuous case of voter fraud. The three had been working in the "Black Belt" counties of Alabama, which, after years of voting white, had begun to swing toward black candidates as voter registration drives brought in more black voters. Sessions's focus on these counties to the exclusion of others caused an uproar among civil rights leaders, especially after hours of interrogating black absentee voters produced only 14 allegedly tampered ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in the 1984 election. The activists, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted in four hours and became a cause célèbre. Civil rights groups charged that Sessions had been looking for voter fraud in the black community and overlooking the same violations among whites, at least partly to help reelect his friend Senator Denton.

On its own, the case might not have been enough to stain Sessions with the taint of racism, but there was more. Senate Democrats tracked down a career Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU ) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people." In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as "un-American" when "they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions" in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to "pop off" on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases. Sessions acknowledged making many of the statements attributed to him but claimed that most of the time he had been joking, saying he was sometimes "loose with [his] tongue." He further admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation," a phrase he stood behind even in his confirmation hearings.

It got worse. Another damaging witness-- a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures-- testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn't see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks." Figures echoed Hebert's claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American."

...The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee finally voted ten to eight against sending Sessions to the Senate floor. The decisive vote was cast by the other senator from Alabama, Democrat Howard Heflin, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, who said, "[M]y duty to the justice system is greater than any duty to any one individual."

None of this history stopped Sessions's political ascension. He was elected attorney general in 1994. Once in office, he was linked with a second instance of investigating absentee ballots and fraud that directly impacted the black community. He was also accused of not investigating the church burnings that swept the state of Alabama the year he became attorney general. But those issues barely made a dent in his 1996 Senate campaign, when Heflin retired and Sessions ran for his seat and won.

Since his election as a senator, Sessions has not done much to make amends for his past racial insensitivity. His voting record in the Senate has earned him consistent "F"s from the NAACP. He supported an ultimately unsuccessful effort to end affirmative action programs in the federal government (a measure so extreme that many conservatives were against it), he opposed hate-crimes laws, and he opposed a motion to investigate the disproportionate number of minorities in juvenile detention centers. Says Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP 's Washington bureau, "[Sessions's] voting record is disturbing. ... He has consistently opposed the bread-and-butter civil rights agenda." But it has been on judicial nominees that Sessions has really made a name for himself. When Sessions grabbed Heflin's Senate seat in 1996, he also nabbed a spot on the Judiciary Committee. Serving on the committee alongside some of the senators who had dismissed him 16 years earlier, Sessions has become a cheerleader for the Bush administration's judicial picks, defending such dubious nominees as Charles Pickering, who in 1959 wrote a paper defending Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law, and Judge Dennis Shedd, who dismissed nearly every fair-employment civil rights case brought before him as a federal district court judge. Sessions called Pickering "a leader for racial harmony" and a "courageous," "quality individual" who was being used as a "political pawn." Regarding Shedd, he pooh-poohed the criticism, announcing that the judge "should have been commended for the rulings he has made," not chastised.

Between Huntingdon Buy Bull College and the University of Alabama Law School Sessions has come to believe that judges should be white, male, religionist and filled with the narrow minded right-wing prejudices that define the little hell on earth that is his world. The notion that the same Senate Judiciary Committee that rejected him would give a free pass to a woman of color, even one who was first put on the bench by George H.W. Bush and is considered very much a judicial moderate, is something he is incapable of comprehending. In Sessionsland the only good nominee would be Joe the Plumber.

President Obama had private conversations with several more serious Republicans today-- Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe, the first two of whom are on the Judiciary Committee-- and Snowe says she told him he needs to nominate a woman. Hatch reports that he expects Obama to name his nominee fast, maybe this week. Hatch also says that "he assured me that he would not be picking a radical or an extremist for the court that he was very pragmatic in his approach and that he would pick somebody who would abide by the rule of law.” Whew, so no one like Alito, Scalia, Thomas or Roberts. Thank God!

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At 5:17 AM, Anonymous Lee said...

oh vey...

I think Kos's comment yesterday

The battle for Obama's first Supreme Court nominee is going to be so fucking stupid I don't know any of us will be able to stand it.,

is spot on

At 5:51 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Oh Boy THIS IS GREAT! (Flounder).

Ya know you just can't make stuff up like this for people who deserve it more than the RNC.

How about cameos by Trent Lott and let's prop up Strom Thurmond, he probably looks about the same and his views haven't changed any.

At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

Would I be wrong in thinking that there is no legal requirement that the US President get a SC nominee approved by the Senate, prior to appointment?

At 6:59 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Works for me Balakirev, but what do I know?

I thought the president couldn't take us into war without a declaration from Congress.

At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

I think tradition has hardened into expectations, and at this point, into the demand from the guests at the table that the owner of the house only cook exactly the food they want. The fact that these same guests have gone around criticizing and defacing the house since the latest occupant moved in makes me wonder just how far he can be pushed. I'm willing to bet it isn't very far.

And (to change frames of reference) I'm damn glad Souter didn't announce his retirement a couple of months ago, when Obama was still in his nice-nice phase with the Congressional Republicans. He might have given a lot more in the hopes of garnering something in return.

Of course, he also said he would campaign for Specter come the next Democratic primary, so maybe Obama's still got to figure out who's really on his side.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Good post. I live in Alabama and have long detested Beauregard. One correction though, it is (was) Howell Heflin, not Howard


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