U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions – Photo: Gage Skidmore.
Following a tense debate in the Senate and a massive backlash from LGBTQ and civil rights groups against his nomination, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as Attorney General.
Sessions’ anti-LGBTQ history has been well-documented, including opposing lifting the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; opposing marriage equality, partner benefits for LGBT couples, employment nondiscrimination, and LGBT hate crime protections; and supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
When we rated the threat level to LGBTQ rights of every major Trump nominee, we gave Sessions our highest rating, “Scorched Earth.”
During his confirmation hearings, Sessions defended the First Amendment Defense Act, a Republican-favored “religious freedom” bill which would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Sessions was confirmed in a 52-47 vote Wednesday evening, after a bitter fight that saw Senate Democrats try to stall his confirmation — a process that involved Sen. Elizabeth Warren being formally silenced after reading a letter by Coretta Scott King, widow of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1986 letter, King objects to the nomination of Sessions to the federal bench in Alabama. Warren’s reading of the letter led to Senate Republicans invoking a little-used rule to silence her.
Democrats frequently cited the fact that Sessions wouldn’t stand up to President Trump reason for blocking his confirmation.
DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile said that Sessions’ “has not improved” since the time of King’s letter, and that “he stands for everything our Attorney General should be fighting, and he has given the American people no reason to believe he’s prepared to act as an independent check on President Trump’s extremism.”
“Sessions has fought against voting rights and celebrated the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which he called ‘intrusive.’ He helped block reforms in prison sentencing, attacked civil rights activists in court, and has a long history of making discriminatory and racially charged remarks,” Brazile continued. “He has fought against LGBT rights, voting against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to allow workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. He even likened his effort to ban same-sex marriage to the movement to abolish slavery.
“Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship for being too extreme 30 years ago,” she added. “He says he is the same person now. If a Republican Senate rejected him for being too extreme then, what does it say about Republicans if they confirm him now?”
Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, had equally strong words for Sessions’ confirmation, calling it a “travesty.”
“The chief lawyer of the United States is now someone who has devoted his whole life to obstructing civil rights,” Tiven said. “He is a life-long opponent of the civil rights of LGBT people, people of color, women and immigrants. Sadly, we have no confidence in his commitment to enforcing the law and protecting the civil rights of everyone in this country.”
Tiven also offered some personal insight into Sessions’ character, stating that he “is an opponent of marriage equality and a dogged foe of immigrants and refugees – even LGBT people fleeing persecution. I have personally seen him be rude and dismissive toward LGBT families.”
Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality called Sessions’ confirmation “a deeply distressing day for civil rights” and called his track record on LGBTQ rights “bleak.”
“By voting to confirm Sen. Sessions as Attorney General, these 52 senators are endorsing his extensive and extreme record of anti-LGBT, racist, xenophobic, and anti-civil rights statements and actions,” Keisling said. “We have been and continue to be gravely concerned about how his leadership of the Department of Justice will affect the 1.4 million transgender adults, and hundreds of thousands of transgender children and adolescents, who live in the United States. We are particularly troubled when it comes to transgender people who are also people of color or immigrants, as well as those who will also be affected by Sen. Sessions’ opposition to sensible, bipartisan criminal justice reform.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called it “deeply disturbing” that Sessions had been confirmed, given he “has demonstrated a 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.
“The man now in charge of enforcing hate crimes protections doesn’t even think they should exist — or that LGBTQ people need them,” Griffin continued.