The Plank

Understanding Jeff Sessions

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I'm trying to figure out what exactly Jeff Sessions meant when he said he could support a Supreme Court justice who had "gay tendencies." Clearly he is making a concession of sorts. But precisely what he is conceding is not clear. Here is Sessions' exact formulation:

"I don't think a person who acknowledges that they have gay tendencies is disqualified per se for the job.” 

It's as if Sessions wandered into his answer intending at first to say that a justice's sexual orientation shouldn't matter, but then thought better of it and tried to walk back the sentiment in mid-sentence. The "per se" is a telling qualifier. Being gay does not disqualify you per se, but, you know, it's two strikes against you.

And, of course, Sessions is only willing to allow "gay tendencies." This of course is not the same thing as being willing to vote for a justice who's actually gay. Just gay-ish. So, for instance, some bigots might refuse to seat somebody like Jennifer Granholm, who is heterosexual but has suspiciously short hair. Sessions would not disqualify her on that basis. Per se. But perhaps a prospective justice who evinced extremely strong gay tendencies, such as outright non-heterosexuality, might be a different story.

--Jonathan Chait

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