Justice Watch: Nominees Raise Civil Rights Concerns


Thirty years ago, the Senate rejected a bid by Jeff Sessions to become a federal judge. Now nominated as attorney general, the senate focuses on Senator Sessions’ record on issues of race, policing and immigration.

As attorney general, should the senate confirm him, Jeff Sessions would have broad latitude to define how federal prosecutors prioritize their power and to make changes to the Justice Department’s priorities.

Concern was expressed on Friday that an Attorney General Sessions would undo the Obama administration’s civil rights efforts, which have included investigations of police departments for unconstitutional practices, and lawsuits meant to protect the rights of transgender individuals and black voters.

“Given some of his past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say,” said Democratic Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in a statement.

He is not alone in expressing concern.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is herself a senator-elect, issued the following statement:

While I have many concerns with President-Elect Trump’s nominations to date, the nomination of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is particularly troubling.

Justice Robert Jackson, one of the most esteemed justices to serve on the Supreme Court, wrote of the U.S. Department of Justice, ‘The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous.’

I know from my own career in law enforcement, civil rights, and the six years I have spent as California’s Attorney General how important this role is for our society. The Attorney General is the people’s lawyer, a public servant who is sworn to uphold the promise of equal protection under the law and to ensure the fair administration of justice for all.

In viewing the role of the U.S. Attorney General through this lens, I have deep concerns about Senator Sessions’ nomination. Particularly, I am concerned with his support for policies that would undermine core Department of Justice functions and his views that are incompatible with constitutional guarantees.

Like all presidential nominees, Senator Sessions deserves a fair and thorough hearing by the Senate, and I look forward to actively engaging in that process.

The ACLU also expressed concern for not only Jeff Sessions but also Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo, who was nominated to be director of the CIA.

Here is Anthony Romero’s statement:

President-elect Donald Trump today has reportedly offered Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama the position of attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas the position of  director of the Central Intelligence Agency. As a matter of organizational policy, the American Civil Liberties Union does not take a position supporting or opposing presidential or judicial nominations. We do, however, educate the American people and the Congress about nominees’ records and past positions.

Sen. Sessions has called the ACLU un-American and communist, assertions we flatly reject. His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations. As the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans, yet Sessions has a reported history of making racist comments. In his confirmation hearings, senators, the media, and the American public should closely examine his stances on these key issues to ensure we can have confidence in his ability to uphold the Constitution and our laws on behalf of all Americans. 

Congressman Pompeo’s positions on bulk surveillance and Guantanamo Bay also raise serious civil liberties concerns about privacy and due process. These positions and others merit serious public scrutiny through a confirmation process. His positions on mass surveillance have been rejected by federal courts and have been the subject of several lawsuits filed by the ACLU, including ACLU v. Clapper.

From now until the confirmation hearings, the ACLU will continue to scrutinize the civil liberties and rights records of Trump nominees, including Sen. Sessions and Rep. Pompeo if they choose to accept the president-elect’s nomination. 

Meanwhile CAIR is concerned about the appointment of Lt. General Michael Flynn to national security advisor:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today called on President-elect Donald Trump not to appoint retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser because of his history of anti-Muslim comments and associations.

Earlier this year at a Texas event hosted by the anti-Islam hate group ACT for America, Flynn compared Islam to “a cancer” and said that faith of 1.6 billion people worldwide “definitely hides behind being a religion.”

“A person who believes the faith of one fourth of the world’s population is a ‘cancer’ should not be advising the president on anything, let alone on our nation’s security,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We urge President-elect Trump not to appoint General Flynn to any administration post, and if he already has made that decision, to find another candidate who does not hold such bigoted views.”

Awad noted that Flynn is on the board of advisers for ACT for America, a virulently anti-Muslim hate group headed by Hanah Kahwagi Tudor, who goes by the pseudonym “Brigitte Gabriel.”

“Gabriel” has stated that an American Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen” and that Islam is the “real enemy.” She once told the Australian Jewish News: “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.” When asked whether Americans should “resist Muslims who want to seek political office in this nation,” Tudor said, “Absolutely.”

CAIR recently decried the appointment of anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist and White nationalist “alt-right” extremist Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor and updated its site with information about the extremist anti-Muslim views of a number of potential Trump administration appointees.

Vanguard view:

The election of Donald Trump as president has been viewed by many with alarm.  Many have argued that the president-elect should be given a chance, with some apparently hoping he would turn away from the strident comments of his campaign.

But from the appointment of Bannon to the appointment of these three individuals to key spots, the hope that the president would be more moderate is quickly dissipating.  As the NY Times points out, “All three are regarded, in some ways, as outliers from conventional Republican thinking, shunned at times for strident statements, controversial positions or highly partisan moves.”

The Times continues, “There was no evidence in Friday’s selections that Mr. Trump, who has hinted that he might pursue a more centrist agenda once he sits in the Oval Office, is inclined to moderate his approach on key questions of national security and civil rights.”

Indeed, in announcing Mr. Flynn, Trump said, “I am pleased that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn will be by my side as we work to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, navigate geopolitical challenges and keep Americans safe at home and abroad.”

With regard to Jeff Sessions, it should be remembered that it was a Republican Senate that rejected his nomination to be a federal judge in 1986.

The NY Times writes in a scathing editorial, “It would be nice to report that Mr. Sessions, who is now 69, has conscientiously worked to dispel the shadows that cost him the judgeship. Instead, the years since his last confirmation hearing reveal a pattern of dogged animus to civil rights and the progress of black Americans and immigrants.”

Here is one example. While working as federal prosecutor, Mr. Sessions brought voter-fraud charges “against three civil rights workers trying to register black voters in rural Alabama.”  The Times notes, “The prosecution turned up 14 allegedly doctored ballots out of 1.7 million cast, and the jury voted to acquit.”

The Times notes that he may reverse the DOJ’s decision not to interfere with state marijuana laws.  “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” he said at a senate hearing in April.

And he has been “the Senate’s most ardent opponent of fixing the immigration system. In 2015 he proposed a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone re-entering the country illegally after being deported. That could increase the federal prison population by as much as 30 percent. As Mr. Trump’s chief law enforcer, he is likely to fully support efforts to enlist local law enforcement in a widening dragnet for people without papers. He also, during the campaign, endorsed the idea of a ban on Muslim immigrants.”

We shall see what happens, but from a civil rights perspective, it does not appear that the new administration is headed in the right direction.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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