Historic and current failure to acknowledge voter suppression remains a key issue
BALTIMORE, MD – NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks issued the following statement opposing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as potential Attorney General:
“America yet stands at the beginning of presidential administration but also in the middle of a Twitter age civil rights movement based on old divisions. Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is among the worst possible nominees to serve as Attorney General amidst some of the worst times for civil rights in recent memory.
“Following a divisive presidential campaign, hate crimes rising, police videos sickening the stomach while quickening the conscience, protesters marching in the streets and politicians mouthing the myth of voter fraud while denying the reality of voter suppression, Senator Sessions is precisely the wrong man to lead the Justice Department. The NAACP, as the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, opposes the nomination of Senator Sessions to become U.S. Attorney General for the following reasons: a record on voting rights that is unreliable at best and hostile at worse; a failing record on other civil rights; a record of racially offensive remarks and behavior; and dismal record on criminal justice reform issues.”
Senator Sessions supported the re-authorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2006, but called the bill “a piece of intrusive legislation” just months earlier. Sessions has consistently voted in favor of strict voter ID laws that place extra burdens on the poor and residents of color, and drive voter suppression across the country. When the Supreme Court struck down federal protections in 2012 that prevented thousands of discriminatory state laws from taking effect since 1965, Sessions declared it was “a good thing for the South.” As a prosecutor in 1985, Sessions maliciously prosecuted a former aide to Martin Luther King for helping senior citizens file absentee ballots in Alabama.
Rather than enforcing voting rights protections, Senator Sessions has instead made a career of seeking to dismantle them. When Shelby County v. Holder gutted the protections of the VRA, Senator Sessions cheered. For decades, he has pursued the rare and mystical unicorn of voter fraud, while turning a blind eye to the ever-growing issue of voter suppression.
While Senator Sessions’ historical record on civil rights remains one of dismay, it is his unrepentant stance against the vote that remains our issue. The threat of voter suppression is not a historical but current challenge. At least 10 times in the past 10 months, the NAACP defended voting rights against coordinated campaigns by legislators targeting African-American voters in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and many other states.
While the NAACP could gain the assistance of the Justice Department in fighting back against voter suppression, a Sessions-led DOJ would likely lead to the exact opposite. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach’s commitment to democracy allowed him to help write the VRA. Today, our nation stands on the verge of selecting an AG who has never shown the slightest commitment to enforcing the protections Katzenbach and others wrote into law.
How can our communities who have born the both historical and current brunt of the attacks on the right to vote, sit idly by while an enemy to the vote is now given the responsibility of enforcing this right? The simple answer is that we can’t.
Other Civil Rights:
Since 1997, Senator Sessions has received an F every year on the NAACP’s federal legislative civil rights report cards. He’s voted against our policy positions nearly 90 percent of the time. Senator Sessions has repeatedly supported lawsuits and attempts to overturn desegregation while shamelessly voting against federal Hate Crime legislation four times from 2000 to 2009.
Notwithstanding, he has also repeatedly voted against the Violence Against Women Act that expanded protection for victims of domestic violence and repeatedly stood on the wrong side of immigration and LGBT issues.
During his failed 1986 federal judgeship hearing, four DOJ attorneys and colleagues of Senator Sessions testified that he made several racist statements. J. Gerald Hebert testified that Sessions had referred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as “un-American” and “Communist inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.
Additional accusations of racist behavior were attributed to Senator Sessions by Thomas Figures, an African American Assistant U.S. Attorney, who testified that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” Sessions later said that the comment was not serious, but did apologize for it. Mr. Figures also testified that on one occasion, Senator Session railed against civil rights cases, threw a file on the table and called him the derogatory racist term “boy,” and later advised Figures to watch what he said to white people.
Criminal Justice Reform:
In a time of expanding protests against the scourge of police brutality, Senator Sessions stands on opposite ground. He has repeated stood against the consent decree, a main tool of the DOJ to reel in racist and unaccountable police departments. In a report by the Alabama Policy Institute, Senator Sessions called consent decrees:
“One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees. Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
While under the administration of President Barack Obama, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division made investigating police departments charged with racism and police brutality a key focus by intervening in high-profile cases in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland to impose consent decrees and reforms to correct misbehavior and the violation of citizen’s civil rights.
Senator Sessions would become the Attorney General under a president who supports nationalizing the racist and disproven “stop and frisk,” strategy. Both Sessions and the incoming president are supporters of the DOD 1033 program which allows police department’s access to surplus military equipment including tanks, armored vehicles, grenade launchers and more. He also opposes the removal of mandatory minimum sentences and blocked efforts to reduce nonviolent drug sentencing despite wide bi-partisan support for doing so. If not enough, Senator Sessions has repeatedly voted against safe, sane, and sensible measures to stem the tide of gun violence.
Given that these are issues our nation the attorney general is sworn to protect and enforce his nomination represents an ongoing and dangerous threat to our civic birthrights –particularly, and the right to vote.
We call upon the Senate to reject Sessions and for President-elect Donald J. Trump to replace Sessions with a nominee with a record of inclusion and commitment to protecting the civil rights of the American majority.
The NAACP does not believe that an election where the incoming president lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes represents a mandate to overhaul the America of the Majority. The vote remains the most important resource in making democracy real for all people.
As we have since 1909, the NAACP will continue to stand against Senator Sessions and any attempts to unravel the progress earned through the blood, sweat and tears of our people to enjoy the same rights under law as all Americans.”
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas here.