Sessions And Race

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THE PLANK MAY 4, 2009

Sessions And Race

The Hill brings word today that Senator Jeff Sessions will likely replace Arlen Specter as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a full GOP vote on the Alabama senator expected as early as tomorrow afternoon. Sessions leapfrogged more-senior member Chuck Grassley for the top spot, The Hill reports, because conservative groups "viewed Sessions as the better spokesman, and more likely to lead the Republican charge in questioning the [next Supreme Court] nominee."

Observers are already making reference to Sessions's contentious statements on race, which first surfaced when Reagan tapped him for the U.S. District Court in Alabama (the nomination ultimately never made it out of the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee to the Senate floor). But for a more thorough history of Sessions's pesky habit of saying some pretty outlandish stuff, it's worth checking out Sarah Wildman's 2002 piece for TNR:

Since his election as a senator, Sessions has not done much to make amends for his past racial insensitivity. His voting record in the Senate has earned him consistent "F"s from the NAACP. He supported an ultimately unsuccessful effort to end affirmative action programs in the federal government (a measure so extreme that many conservatives were against it), he opposed hate-crimes laws, and he opposed a motion to investigate the disproportionate number of minorities in juvenile detention centers. Says Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, "[Sessions's] voting record is disturbing. ... He has consistently opposed the bread-and-butter civil rights agenda." But it has been on judicial nominees that Sessions has really made a name for himself. When Sessions grabbed Heflin's Senate seat in 1996, he also nabbed a spot on the Judiciary Committee. Serving on the committee alongside some of the senators who had dismissed him 16 years earlier, Sessions has become a cheerleader for the Bush administration's judicial picks, defending such dubious nominees as Charles Pickering, who in 1959 wrote a paper defending Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law, and Judge Dennis Shedd, who dismissed nearly every fair-employment civil rights case brought before him as a federal district court judge. Sessions called Pickering "a leader for racial harmony" and a "courageous," "quality individual" who was being used as a "political pawn." Regarding Shedd, he pooh-poohed the criticism, announcing that the judge "should have been commended for the rulings he has made," not chastised.

--Katie Koch

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