The Injustice of America's New Prosecutor
From early on in the 2016 Presidential Campaign, then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Al) was an early backer of President Donald Trump. Sessions’ loyalty was rewarded with a cabinet appointment to become this nation’s 84th Attorney General. As Attorney General, Sessions is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer as well as the government’s chief lawyer. His decisions affect the very fabric of our society. Sessions has an extensive record of public service. He served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. He also served as the Attorney General of Alabama, and he represented the state of Alabama as their United States Senator. With this lengthy record, there is a pattern of opposing women’s rights, the LGBT community, and voting rights.
When it comes to the rights of women in this country, Session’s record is outside of the mainstream. During his tenure in the Senate, he repeatedly voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and bills that sought additional money for the program. In 2005, Sessions voted against an amendment to a budget bill that would have procured $9 million in funding for the Office of Violence Against Women. Sessions also opposed equal pay legislation. This includes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by stating that the 180-day statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits starts with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Paycheck Fairness Act “would authorize [Equal Pay Act] class actions and ‘such compensatory and punitive damages as may be appropriate.’” Sessions called the legal precedent of Roe vs. Wade constitutionally unsound, and he supports using opposition to abortion as a litmus test for the confirmation of judicial branch appointments. In a 1996 report in the Birmingham News, Sessions said he “favored a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure ‘except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is endangered.’” Jeff Sessions is also on the record stating, “I heartily support a 24-Hour waiting period, parental notification and required malpractice insurance for all abortion clinics. I strongly oppose public funding of abortion.” In addition to his agenda of opposing equal pay and reproductive rights, he also made the gross comment that he “did not know” if grabbing a woman by the genitals was sexual assault after the release of the Access Hollywood tape surfaced during the 2016 Presidential Election.
The Attorney General also has a history of opposing the civil liberties of the LGBT community. In 1995, as the Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions filed an amicus brief in support of a Colorado referendum that barred the protected status of gays, lesbians, and bisexual people. During his tenure as Alabama’s Attorney General, there was a conference slated for Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexual individuals at the University of Alabama, and Sessions attempted to block it stating that it potentially violated state law. Sessions did everything he could to block the conference, including seeking a restraining order. However, his efforts were unsuccessful. Sessions chastised the University of Alabama for “bending too far to political correctness.” Then-Senator Sessions backed restoring the military ban on homosexuals serving in the military, and he also opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when it was considered before the Congress. Sessions backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. When the Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefel, Sessions lambasted the decision as “unconstitutional”. He also opposed legislation designating the LGBT community as a protected group under the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He also expressed unease about judicial nominees with what he described as having “gay tendencies."
Repeatedly, Attorney General Sessions has opposed voting rights, and has supported measures making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. In 1985, as a federal prosecutor, three civil rights advocates were indicted by a federal grand jury of voter fraud. The three were accused of fraudulently changing absentee ballots while they were registering voters. While Sessions sought a conviction, the three activists were found innocent in all counts. Sessions claimed that race was not a motivating factor in pursuing these charges even though he bizarrely stated that he did not “know of a single allegation of voter fraud by whites of any significant kind.” During the case, he denied allegations of voter disenfranchisement due to his zealous prosecution. Sessions repeatedly pursued voter fraud cases including the failed prosecution of the Marion Three that ultimately cost him a federal judgeship. As a United States Senator, he decried the Voting Rights Act as “an intrusive piece of legislation.’” In 2013, he hailed the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the sections of the Voting Rights Act as “good news” because he believed that counties that he represented in Congress were not denying blacks’ voting rights. He opposed legislation that restored voting rights to felons, stating, “I don’t think American policy is going to be better informed if we have a bunch of felons in the process.” Sessions is also an ardent supporter of voter identification laws that discriminate against minorities and the elderly because it is more difficult for these communities to have access to voter identification including a driver’s license.
There is no turning back. Jeff Sessions is our current Attorney General. In spite of his record opposing voting rights, gay rights, and women’s’ rights, Senate Republicans were not compelled by this evidence to block his confirmation. However, we must hold him to account and preserve the progress that has been made over recent years with LGBT rights and women’s’ rights. We must also undo the damage done by state legislatures and the judiciary on the issue of voting rights.
James Nickerson is a Senior Editor at Sojourn Review. You can follow him on Twitter here.