UPDATE: Sessions dodged Sen. Lindsey Graham’s questions over whether Russia tried to hack or did hack the U.S. elections, and Graham might have said the hacking changed the outcome of the election. And when questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sessions acknowledged that grabbing a woman’s genitals without consent would “clearly” be sexual assault.
UPDATE: Sessions has also said that “religious liberty” would be one of his priorities, and that he would not support a “blanket ban” on Muslims entering the U.S.
Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s controversial pick to be U.S. attorney general, is facing the Senate today in a confirmation hearing for that nomination, and he opened with a statement declaring that Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are both settled law, and that as AG he would respect those Supreme Court rulings.
Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court ruling making abortion legal; Obergefell v. Hodges was the 2015 SCOTUS ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. Given Sessions’ right-wing history, many civil rights advocates have been concerned that he would not defend those decisions and would, in fact, work to overturn them.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee which is holding the hearings, said that while Democrats on the committee might find it difficult to go after a long-time colleague, it would be necessary to do so. Feinstein said, according to CNN, “The process is going to be fair and thorough. But today, we’re not being asked to evaluate him as a senator. We’re being asked to evaluate him as the attorney general of the United States. We cannot ignore that there are deep concerns and anxieties throughout America.”
On the issue of abortion, Sessions said that although he believes the Roe v. Wade decision “violated the Constitution,” it is “law of the land; it has been settled for some time. … I will respect it and follow it.”
He had a similar response on the question of marriage equality and the Obergefell ruling: “The Supreme Court has ruled on that, the dissents dissented vigorously, but it was 5-4 and … I will follow that decision.”
In 1986, when Ronald Reagan nominated him for a federal judgeship, the Senate refused to confirm the nomination based on Sessions’ alleged racist comments and actions. Today he veered away from his prepared remarks to address the expected accusations head on: “”I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology. I never declared the NAACP was un-American.”
He also declared that he understands the impact of discrimination based on race and on sexual orientation, and vowed to protect the civil rights not only of racial minorities but of women and the LGBT community, too.
“I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters,” Sessions said. “I have witnessed it. We must continue to move forward and never back. I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community. I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are full enforced. I understand the lifelong scars born by women who are victims of assault and abuse. And if I am so fortunate to be confirmed as your attorney general, you can know that I understand the absolute necessity that all my actions must fall within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”
Sessions also pledged to recuse himself from any investigations involving Hillary Clinton, based on nasty and inflammatory comments he made about her during the presidential campaign.