Sessions: Forgive the past, focus on qualifications for the future

Sessions: Forgive the past, focus on qualifications for the future

Michael Brochstein/Zuma Press/TNS

Collin Crouse
| For The Pitt News

February 13, 2017

Like all of President Donald Trump’s nominations for his cabinet, Jeff Sessions was not exempt from harsh criticism and a grueling confirmation process.

Rumors and hints of who President Trump would nominate for Attorney General became the subject of controversy between senate Democrats and Republicans, as have most of the President’s latest actions in his first few weeks in office.

But Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general last Thursday, in a tight 52-47 vote, meaning he will represent the country on all legal matters, give counsel to the administration, ensure proper enforcement of laws and be responsible for advising on judge appointments to the Supreme Court.

Despite opposition from Democratic senators and liberal-leaning Americans, Sessions is more than qualified to fulfill those duties for the Department of Justice for the next four years — plus, he’s got a history of bipartisanship this country could use desperately. The political left is branding him as racist in attempts to delegitimize his work and his ability to serve in his new position, with little evidence to back these claims. It’s more important to acknowledge Sessions’ qualifications and political history and give him a chance to succeed in his new position rather than argue about his character.

Sessions started his career in 1975 as an assistant attorney and was elected the 44th attorney general of Alabama for a two-year term in 1994, winning the popular vote at 57 percent. Two years later, Sessions was elected as a U.S. senator, and won four consecutive terms before being officially confirmed as our next attorney general — a role that his decades of experience upholding the Constitution and commitment to rule of law have primed him to succeed in.

Allegations of racial prejudice first came against Sessions in the 1980s. Reagan’s nomination of Sessions in 1986 to United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama was backed by a majority of the American Bar Association, but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights and People for the American Way all opposed him. The groups cited an alleged statement made by Sessions after the brutal murder of a young black man by two Klansmen in Mobile, Alabama. After learning the Klansmen smoked marijuana on the night of the murder, Sessions claimed the Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” The statement cost Sessions the nomination after Thomas Figures, an assistant attorney under Sessions at the time, testified at the confirmation hearing that he was present when Sessions made the comments.

I’ll admit, it doesn’t sound good. He defended his inappropriate statement by saying he meant it only as a joke. And while he certainly shouldn’t have said this — it’s not a matter to joke about under any circumstance — a few careless words shouldn’t be cited as evidence of him being racist for the rest of his career.

In a letter written by Coretta Scott King in 1986 that urged blocking Sessions appointment to a federal judgeship, King outlined many points she thought would be devastating to the movement her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., worked to create. In her letter she wrote, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.” These words came after Sessions tried to prosecute three older African American men for voter fraud as an attorney in 1985. The critics of Sessions said the charges were racially motivated, but it’s not enough evidence to prove claims that Sessions would use his power as a beholder of the law against citizens unfairly. Since 1986, when King penned the letter, Sessions has become an advocate for civil rights.

Sessions co-sponsored a bill to award Rosa Parks the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999 and she accepted it with great honor. After Parks’ death in 2005, Sessions gave a passionate tribute to her on the Senate floor, saying, “History will remember Rosa Parks for shaking America’s conscience and changing the course of our nation for the better.”

The NAACP even honored Sessions in 2009 with an Award of Excellence. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted a photo earlier this month of the award. After the photo went viral, the NAACP made a statement claiming that it doubts this award was ever given to Sessions — but Snopes, a fact-checking website, confirmed that the photo of the award does exist. One way or another, someone is lying. But it seems nonsensical to create a plaque for yourself when it’s not even on display in your own office.

Sessions undoubtedly has some glaring marks on his record, as does anyone who’s worked in politics for more than 40 years. But few candidates can boast about a resume like Sessions’. Few lawyers have gone beyond prosecuting to hold the position of a state attorney general — a position that mirrors the U.S. attorney general position similar to how governors translate well to presidents. Likewise through his time as Alabama’s attorney general, Sessions will already understand the way law enforcement agencies run and how state governments operate independently of the federal government.

The ever-growing split between America’s two parties is both more prevalent and more worrisome than ever. A study of voting patterns from 1989 shows that senators were more open to voting for issues across party lines, but those in 2013 showed the divide as more dramatic with few senators willing to compromise with the opposite party. Moderate stances and cross-party voting on issues are becoming more rare than ever before. Regardless of what side we lean, both sides need to learn to compromise more — and Sessions’ ability to work on bipartisan issues should calm the nerves of Americans.

Sessions worked with the Democratic Party on a proposal to cut federal nonmilitary spending in 2010 — he and Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., were very close to getting the bill passed, but it fell one vote short. He also co-sponsored the Victims of Child Abuse Reauthorization Act of 2013 with Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., a bipartisan bill that provides funding to Americans that who were abused during childhood.

Both the left and the right need to be more tolerant and understanding when it comes to offering chances. Sessions is not new to politics and the position of attorney general suits him well. His ability to work with the opposing party while also sharing the views of the president and majority of Congress is a trait needed most in Washington, D.C., right now.

Allow his future actions to speak louder than his past words.

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