Justice, Politics

Five Questions Jeff Sessions Should Have Been Asked – But Wasn’t

[pullquote align=right] The role of Attorney General is too important to let Sessions off so easily.
[/pullquote]Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), nominated to be the nation’s next Attorney General, just finished a two day confirmation hearing. His friends in the Senate went out of their way to defend and applaud him, as though being buddies on the Hill was more important than a full accounting of his record. Even some of his opponents lobbed softballs, and were seemingly satisfied by his vague response that he would follow the laws Congress passes. A confirmation hearing is the public’s only chance to hear first-hand what a nominee would do in office, and Sessions’ hearing was deeply lacking in this regard. Though it lasted hours, and included mountains of testimony, it left some important questions unasked about the type of Attorney General Sessions plans to be. In my work fighting for justice at the National Council of Jewish Women, I know that the role of Attorney General is too important to let Sessions off so easily. Here are five questions I wish he had been asked:

1. Do you really believe that crime is increasing, and that it’s because of attempts to reform police practices?
During his hearing, Sessions linked criticism of police to a rise in crime, saying “And it’s impacted the crime rates in Baltimore and crime rates in Chicago. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.” However, statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show otherwise — crime has decreased 1.8 percent between 2014 and 2015. So why does Sessions continue to insist that efforts to improve policing lead to a rise in crime? It just reinforces my belief that we can’t trust him to address issues of systemic racism in law enforcement agencies across the country.

2. Can you clarify what you meant when you stated that people who do not believe in religion cannot understand “truth?”
As Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate, one moment during the hearing in which Sessions’ polished veneer seemed to slip was when Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) asked him about whether a secular person has as good a claim to truth as a religious person. To this Sessions replied, “Well, I’m not sure.” Not sure? This comment provides a window into Sessions’ world view: If you believe as he believes, you have access to the truth. If you do not, then you’re out of luck.

3. Do you know how many states do not have hate crime laws?
Sessions’ record on hate crimes speaks for itself — he voted against the 2009 Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded protections based on gender, gender identity, sex, and disability. When asked about this vote during the hearing, he said “My view is and was a concern that it appeared that these cases were being prosecuted effectively in state courts, where they would normally be expected to be prosecuted.” This response demonstrates that Sessions either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, that hate crime laws in the states vary widely, and five states — Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Wyoming — don’t have any protections at all.

4. If Trump rescinds DACA (a program protecting individuals brought to the US as children) on January 20, what will you do on January 21?

President-elect Trump has promised to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on his first day in office, leaving more than 750,000 children and young adults vulnerable to deportation. During the hearing, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) pressed Sessions on whether he would deport this population, but never received a straight answer. Sessions was quick to pass the buck to other federal agencies, to the President, and to Congress, but deportation relies on a legal framework produced by the Department of Justice. Further, in urging Congress to “work together” to reform immigration, Sessions was straight up deceptive. Congress did try to reform immigration, most recently in 2013, and Sessions was one of the core members of Congress fighting and ultimately torpedoing their efforts.

5. Do you believe that less than one hundred instances of in-person voter fraud out of the last 200 million ballots cast means it’s ok to suppress the right to vote?

Despite multiple opportunities to demonstrate that his thinking on voting rights had evolved during his time in the Senate, Sessions used his time to dig in harder in his support of voter ID, stating, “I’m not sure it’s been conclusively settled one way or the other whether a properly conducted voter ID system is improper or discriminatory.” If Sessions really believes that a handful of in-person voter fraud incidents is worth making it more difficult for hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people to vote, then he is unfit to serve as Attorney General.

So yes, of course I wish Sessions was required to answer the questions listed above. But underlying all of the unknowns is this: Will Senator Sessions actively pursue justice for those who are oppressed? An Attorney General must defend the nation’s laws, but at their best, can be a formidable tool to right the wrongs of our nation’s past and present. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in his powerful testimony during Day 2 of the hearing, “The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice. We must bend it.” 

[pullquote align=left] Would Senator Sessions bend the arc toward justice? …No, he would definitely not.
[/pullquote]Would Senator Sessions bend the arc toward justice? Thirty plus years of public service, twenty years of votes in the Senate, thousands of statements on the record, hundreds of pages of testimony, and two days of hearings demonstrate that no, he would definitely not.

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