AG nominee Jeff Sessions’ anti-equality history is well-documented
Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
One LGBT legal activist called it “chilling.” Others called it “alarming” and “extreme.” Even outside the LGBT community, the reaction was unusually harsh. The NAACP called it “deeply troubling,” and the Center for American Progress said it was a “dangerous choice.”
The focus of their concern: President-elect Donald Trump announced Friday, Nov. 18, that he will nominate U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is the one who called Session’ nomination “chilling.” Sessions’ “record of opposing racial justice, reproductive freedom and basic equality for and LGBT people should be disqualifying — and would have been disqualifying at any time in the past five decades,” Minter said.
In fact, he continued, Sessions’ “abysmal record on civil rights issues was disqualifying when President Reagan tried to appoint him to the federal bench. Someone who was not fit to be a federal judge is not fit to enforce the civil rights laws of our country. We urge everyone who cares about our Constitution and our nation’s future as a democracy to contact your senators to oppose his nomination.”
Jon Davidson, legal director and Eden/Rushing chair at Lambda Legal, agreed, deeming Sessions’ nomination “alarming to Lambda Legal, as it should be to all Americans.”
Davidson pointed to the nominee’s “lengthy history of opposing civil rights,” adding that Sessions has “repeatedly demeaned African-Americans, women, immigrants, LGBT people and members of other vulnerable groups.”
He stressed that Sessions “loudly opposed” marriage equality, to the point of supporting a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex couples from legally marrying, that he voted against ending the ban on open military service by LGBT people, that he opposed employment discrimination protections for LGBT people, and that he voted against including sexual orientation and gender identity protections in the federal hate crimes law.
“We are greatly concerned about the selection of Sessions, given that the attorney general’s role in determining the position of the federal government in lawsuits in which it is sued, in deciding how the Department of Justice will enforce the Constitution and federal statutes, and in filling high-level positions at the Department of Justice,” Davidson said.
He added, “We expect tough times ahead. Lambda Legal intends to vigilantly resist all retrenchment efforts, and we need everyone who cares about equality, liberty and justice to join in fighting to preserve the progress we all have made.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called Sessions “vehemently anti-LGBTQ,” saying that the nomination of a man “who has such clear animus against so many Americans — including the LGBTQ community, women and people of color — could be charged with running the very system of justice designed to protect them.”
Record of discrimination
Sessions’ hostility to equal rights for LGBT people goes back at least 20 years. In 1996, as attorney general for the state of Alabama, he tried to stop an LGBT student conference from meeting on the University of Alabama campus, citing a newly-enacted law that prohibited any university from spending public funds or using facilities for a group that “promotes a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws.”
The courts eventually struck down the law, in the same year that Sessions was first elected to the U.S. Senate.
Once he took his seat in the Senate, Sessions quickly earned the lowest possible score — a zero — on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, based on LGBT-related voting and issues. Sessions did vote in 2011 to confirm openly-gay nominee J. Paul Oetken as a U.S. district court judge in New York, raising his HRC scorecard to a whopping 15 for one session, but throughout his career in the Senate he has consistently voted for anti-LGBT measures and against pro-LGBT measures.
Sessions voted for various attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban marriage equality, and he voted for an amendment that would have deleted services to LGBT victims of domestic violence. And he voted against an effort to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and against repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In a 2004 Senate floor speech in support of the anti-LGBT Federal Marriage Amendment, Sessions derided a Massachusetts ruling that allowed same-sex couples to marry, suggesting marriage equality would lead to sisters marrying each other or a mother marrying her daughter.
Sessions also has a lengthy record of opposing openly-LGBT judicial nominees and grilling other nominees who made decisions that upheld equal rights for LGBT people.
He spoke and voted against the Hate Crimes Act in 2009, saying, “I don’t think it [is] ever appropriate” to bring up such legislation on the defense bill. He also said the bill was “unwarranted,” that it would “cheapen the civil rights movement,” and that it “creates a new system of justice for individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, providing them with a special protection.…”
“Gays and lesbians,” said Sessions on the floor of the Senate, “have not been denied basic access to things such as health or schooling or to the ballot box.”
But Sessions is perhaps best known having been nominated by President Reagan as a judge on the federal district court in Alabama, and having that nomination shot down by the Senate. During a confirmation hearing in 1986, an African-American attorney who had worked with the judicial nominee said Sessions had referred to him as “boy,” and had told him that he thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
Sessions denied the claims, of course, but his nomination was effectively lost and withdrawn, thanks to that testimony, and to his record of having gone after civil rights workers registering elderly black voters and helping them get absentee ballots in Alabama under the pretext of “voter fraud.
Sessions has attacked civil rights organizations, calling the ACLU, the NAACP and similar groups “un-American” and “communist inspired.” He has fought against immigration reform and has challenged the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship to children born in the U.S. He has also worked closely with anti-immigrant groups with ties to white nationalist John Tanton, according to Think Progress.
Sessions has expressed a willingness to consider Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., opposes Planned Parenthood and is a climate-change denier. His wide-ranging bigotry has prompted organizations including the ACLU, the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza to denounce his nomination.
Obama’s DOJ legacy
President Obama’s appointees to the office of U.S. Attorney General — Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch — have appointed openly LGBT people to important positions within DOJ. They have also put the DOJ on the side of equal rights for LGBT people in important civil rights cases.
Most recently, Lynch filed suit against the state of North Carolina for enacting a state law — HB2 — that was specifically aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBT people. Holder announced that the Department of Justice would argue that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also extends to prohibit gender identity discrimination.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder instructed DOJ attorneys to respect the marriages of same-sex couples regardless of the laws of their state of residence. And mostly notably, Holder in 2011 issued the letter stating that the administration believes Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and would no longer defend it.
Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominations so far:
• Chief of Staff: Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee who has, at the very least, supported the GOP’s national platform, which includes opposition to marriage equality and support for anti-gay “conversion therapy.”
• Chief strategist and senior counselor: Stephen Bannon, former head of the “alt-right” mouthpiece Breitbart News and chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign. Bannon has close ties to a variety of white nationalist/white supremacy organizations and leaders.
• Attorney General: Sen. Jeff Sessions (see story, this page).
• National Security Advisor: Gen. Mike Flynn, a supposed Democrat who strongly disliked Hillary Clinton and who was dismissed from the Pentagon’s top intelligence job because of his combative style. He has also been highlight critical of Islam, calling the religion “a cancer” and a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.”
• CIA Director: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, whose positions on bulk surveillance and Guantanamo Bay “raise serious civil liberties concerns about privacy and due process,” according to the ACLU. And according to Kansas State’s newspaper, The Collegian, he has publicly opposed marriage equality and LGBT people being parents.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2016.