Senate hearing for Sessions likely to revisit racial issue
The Senate confirmation hearing of Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, is likely to rehash racially charged allegations that derailed his efforts to become a federal judge and made him a symbol of black-voter intimidation under the Reagan administration.
The expected focus on Sessions’ record on race, policing and immigration comes as the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has surged in prominence under the Obama administration. If confirmed, Sessions would have broad latitude to define how federal prosecutors across the country wield their powers and make changes to the Justice Department’s priorities.
Lawmakers and advocates expressed concern Friday that Sessions could sideline or 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,” incoming Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he supported Sessions, who he said “has worked tirelessly to safeguard the public and to improve the lives of Americans from all walks of life.”
Sessions’ peers on the Senate Judiciary Committee will almost certainly delve into the Alabama senator’s past statements on race. The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, hinted as much on Friday, saying the “American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record.”
Leahy voted against Sessions for a district judgeship when he last came before the Judiciary Committee in 1986.
Sessions, a former prosecutor, has said the racially charged allegations against him have been painful to him and an unfair stain on his reputation.