Federal Courts and Nominations

CAC to Senate Judiciary Committee: Sessions Unfit to Be U.S. Attorney General

Washington, DC – In a detailed letter sent today to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Constitutional Accountability Center explains why Senator Jefferson B. Sessions (R-AL), President-elect Donald Trump’s anticipated nominee to be the next United States Attorney General, is unfit to hold that critical position. Confirmation hearings for Sessions are scheduled to begin on January 10, and to last a mere two days, hardly sufficient time for the careful scrutiny needed of someone with the long and troubling record that Sessions has. CAC’s letter, signed by CAC President Elizabeth Wydra and available here, examines Senator Sessions’s record in six key areas within the purview of the Department of Justice:  civil rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice, national security, and executive accountability to the rule of law. CAC concludes: 


Senator Sessions’s long record demonstrates that he is not fit for this position and cannot be trusted to execute the mission of the Department of Justice. His extreme views, at times defying the fundamental protections written in the text and underscored by the history of the Constitution, demonstrate an unwillingness to respect the rights of all persons as guaranteed by our national charter and run counter to the important mission of the Department of Justice. In each of these areas, Senator Sessions has turned a blind eye to fundamental constitutional principles that ensure liberty and equality for all and prevent abuse of power by the government.


CAC’s letter reminds the Committee of the many important offices that comprise the Department of Justice – offices that Senator Sessions has proven, by his decades-long record, he is unfit to lead: 


[The Department of Justice has] 60 agencies and components, including such notable divisions as the Civil Rights Division, the Office of Violence Against Women, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of Legal Counsel.  In order to carry out the Department’s critical mission, it is axiomatic that the Attorney General—the head of DOJ—must have a deep commitment to the principles of liberty, equality, and fairness at the Constitution’s core, a history of respecting substantive fundamental rights, and a demonstrated willingness to respect the Constitution and its values, whatever his or her own policy preferences, or those of the President.


As is evident from his record, Senator Sessions has no such commitment to these fundamental constitutional principles nor respect for its core values of liberty and equality. As CAC’s letter discusses, Sessions, for example, has impeded efforts to eradicate discriminatory policies that make voting difficult for non-white citizens. He made the astonishing statement that those working to take down public displays of the Confederate battle flag were seeking to “delegitimize the fabulous accomplishments of our country.” Sessions opposed legislative efforts that would help end pay discrimination, support women’s bodily autonomy, and support survivors of violence, and he chose to side with the President-elect over the rule of law when Sessions claimed it was “a stretch” to call Trump’s “grab them by the p—y” actions sexual assault. Sessions has called for the end of birthright citizenship, in direct contradiction to the plain text of the U.S. Constitution. He has supported “vetting” prospective immigrants by asking questions about their religion. He has mocked efforts to reform the criminal justice system, and favors civil asset forfeiture. Sessions voted against Senator John McCain’s bipartisan amendment reaffirming the prohibition of torture, opposed reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and advocated requiring technology companies to turn over sought-after data without a warrant if federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies merely declared that an emergency existed.


CAC’s letter sets out the ultimate yardstick for evaluating Sessions, and any nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Justice: 


The Constitution must be the Attorney General’s guide as he advises the President and enforces federal law, and he must read and apply it in whole to ensure its promises reach everyone in America, regardless of income, complexion, gender, or status. It is the responsibility of the Department of Justice to ensure that the Constitution’s guarantees are upheld and enjoyed equally by all persons. Sessions’s positions on a range of issues—positions that have been consistent over decades—make clear that he is not qualified to lead the Department in fulfilling those responsibilities.  


Finally, CAC’s letter addresses the fact that Senator Sessions has for many years been a colleague of most on the Judiciary Committee who will be reviewing his nomination:


We realize that when the Committee is considering one of its own colleagues, there may be a tendency to engage in some amount of senatorial courtesy. But that tradition cannot substitute for the careful and objective scrutiny required of the record of anyone nominated to the position of United States Attorney General.  






Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Senator Jefferson B. Sessions to be Attorney General the United States, CAC President Elizabeth Wydra, January 6, 2017: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/CAC-Letter-on-Sessions-for-AG.pdf




Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history.