(Updated 1/6/2017) Civil rights groups are amplifying their calls to delay or extend the Senate confirmation hearings of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next Attorney General.
NAACP President Cornell William Brooks is escorted from Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office by Mobile, Ala. police. Brooks took part in a protest opposing Sessions’ nomination as attorney general. (Prescotte Stokes/AL.com via AP)
On a Jan. 6 press call, representatives from groups including the NAACP, the National Action Network, the National Council of La Raza, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund demanded that the confirmation hearing for Sessions, currently scheduled for Jan. 10 and 11, be delayed or extended so that senators on the committee could be made aware of Sessions’ controversial history with voting rights and civil rights.
Sessions was accused of racism in the 1980s, allegations which sunk his nomination at the time to be a judge on U.S. District Court in Alabama under President Ronald Reagan.
He was also known for prosecuting the Perry Three—a trio of Black activists, including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr.—for voting fraud. The three were quickly acquitted.
The selection of Sessions as Attorney General by President-elect Donald Trump drew sharp criticism from a bevy of civil rights groups, as previously reported by the AFRO.
“ suggest he stands in opposition to civil rights, the very rights he would be required to enforce. He has said consent decrees are an end run around the law,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “There are questions about whether Sessions is prepared to fulfill the obligations of the office of the Attorney General.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton added, “To have this man over the Justice Department is a nightmare we cannot wake up from. It is not a bully pulpit for those that want to change the clock on civil rights and voting rights. We will not stand by quietly and see the clock turned back.”
Earlier this week, several members of the NAACP, including President and CEO Cornell William Brooks, were arrested following a sit-in protest at Sessions’ Alabama office.
“A few days ago it was my honor to stand with my colleagues in sitting in the office of Sessions. It was an act of civil disobedience. We were arrested, fingerprinted and had our mugshots taken,” Brooks said. “Paramount among our concerns is voting rights. His support for voting rights has been a matter of vacillating between indifference and outright hostility.”
Brooks said that the sit-in was not the only protest the NAACP had planned, but he was circumspect with further details.
“It’s not our practice to disclose our campaigns,” he said. “Suffice it to say, you can anticipate an escalating campaign of opposition. We will continue to make our opposition known through civil disobedience and other acts.”
In the face of opposition from civil rights groups, William Smith, a senior staffer for Sessions for many years who is Black, has been giving interviews saying that Sessions is not a racist. Smith, who is currently chief of staff for Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Al.), said on CNN, “You don’t like Jeff Sessions’ policies and that’s your big problem. But the American people liked the policies Jeff Sessions has come up with. That’s the reason he’s been re-elected by overwhelming amounts and that’s the reason the American people have said, ‘We stand with Jeff Sessions.” He was responding to panelist who implied that he was a token hire for Sessions.