Friends and foes examine Jeff Sessions’ record on civil rights

Jeff Sessions

President-elect Donald Trump has raised more than a few eyebrows with his picks for top Cabinet positions, but the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General has likely drawn the most scrutiny.

Since his name was put forward for the job last month, dozens of articles have detailed everything from his tenure as Alabama’s Attorney General to his failed nomination to a federal judgeship in the 1980s.

Here’s a roundup of the latest blogs, articles and think pieces on Trump’s controversial pick.

Sherrilyn Ifill of New Republic wrote an article about the Trump administration’s plan to tout Session’s background as a “civil rights advocate” during the confirmation process.

“This public relations strategy has become the new normal: take the most glaring weakness of your candidate and present it through the looking glass,” she writes. “And so Jeff Sessions, lifelong civil rights foe, becomes a civil rights advocate.”

The article goes on to detail some well-tread, yet troublesome parts of Sessions’ career, such as when he prosecuted the Marion Three, and asserts that if the 20-year Senator “is a civil rights advocate, he has kept it well-hidden from civil rights lawyers and activists.”

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer has a hard time finding proof for some of the pro-civil rights highlights on Sessions’ resume, including the claim Sessions made that he filed up to 30 lawsuits to desegregate schools and political organizations.

“Searches of the legal databases Westlaw and PACER found no evidence that any new school-desegregation lawsuits were filed in Alabama’s Southern District by Sessions between 1981, when Sessions became U.S. attorney in Alabama, and 1995, when he became Alabama attorney general,” Serwer writes.

According to their findings, Sessions name would have been on filings prepared by the civil rights division while he was U.S. Attorney, though that doesn’t mean he had anything to do with a case.

“All this shows is that Sessions didn’t completely refuse to participate in or have his name on pleadings in cases that the civil rights division brought during his tenure. But nobody, to my knowledge, has ever made such a claim about him,” said Michigan Law professor Samuel Bagenstos.

Paul Mirengoff of PoweLineBlog attacks the notion that Sessions is a racist by noting that “African-Americans who know him well aren’t buying in.”

Mirengoff quotes Donald Watkins, who attended law school with Sessions, as posting on Facebook that “Jeff was a conservative then, as he is now, but he was NOT a racist.” Watkins has also said he regrets not coming forward 30 years ago to defend Sessions during his failed bid at a federal judgeship.

The blog post also brings up Alabama State Sen. Quinton Ross, a black Democrat who is publically backing Sessions’ nomination.

Freelancer James Higdon explores Sessions’ views on marijuana enforcement in a piece for Politico, saying “with little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state where legislators approved the use of CBD.”

Sessions hasn’t said what plans are for drug enforcement, though if aggressive enforcement is the name of the game, he could send a $6.7 billion industry into a tailspin.

Bill Piper treads similar ground in a piece for U.S. News & World Report, this time tying Sessions views on drugs to his record on civil rights.

“Sessions’ record shows he’s likely to escalate the war on drugs by undermining civil rights, stifling state-level marijuana reforms that have drastically reduced arrests in communities of color and rolling back much of the progress in policing and criminal justice reform made by the Obama administration,” he writes.