He once reportedly called a black attorney “boy” and advised him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” He deemed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the legendary civil-rights group co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, “communist-inspired.” Yet, Friday morning, some 30 years after his nomination to the federal bench was rejected, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions will likely become the next U.S. attorney general.
Sessions, who once even “suggested a white lawyer working for black clients was a race traitor” and “joked that the only issue he had with the Ku Klux Klan was their drug use,” was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and now serves on the Judiciary Committee—the very same body that spurned him in 1986.
Nominated by then President Ronald Reagan, the 39-year-old went on to earn a “F” for his Senate voting record by the NAACP—an organization Sessions calls “un-American.”
Those things should disqualify him from public service—whether serving in the Senate, leading the Justice Department or running the county animal shelter.
But Sessions—once deemed “the most racist man in the Senate”—has been among Donald Trump’s most fervent loyalists. A Confederate flag devotee, he was on the campaign, early and hard, when others flat out refused to be caught in the same room with the former real-estate developer. Where others had shame, Sessions beamed with pride.
That now President-elect Trump would make such a high-level nomination should come as no surprise. The announcement comes mere days after Steve Bannon—a man who trades in ethno-centric nationalism, anti-Semitism, and racial animus—was named White House chief strategist. A self-described “Leninist” who until recently was chairman of Breitbart News, Bannon was once accused of choking his now ex-wife over groceries.
Sessions, who is staunchly anti-immigration, can be counted on to help Trump build that wall, institute a ban on Muslim immigration altogether or create the legal perimeters for a federal registry. We can expect Sessions to find legal justification for any and all of Trump’s bigoted schemes.
There isn’t much daylight to speak of between Bannon and Sessions, who once complained that human-rights advocates were trying to “force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.” But, if confirmed—and there’s every reason to believe he will be—in no small irony, Sessions will succeed the first black man and woman to ever hold that office.
It’s a fine place to start if you are intent on erasing the legacy of the nation’s first black president. While critics (and I am one of them) don’t believe President Obama went far enough, there were meaningful reforms in critical areas. Those criminal-justice reforms, instituted by Eric Holder and extended by Loretta Lynch, will almost certainly be halted or reversed.
This likely includes rescinding a plan to halt federal private-prison contracts and, perhaps more dangerously, a federalization of stop-and-frisk laws. It means less accountability for local law-enforcement agencies that police non-white communities, and less scrutiny of an officer who shoots an unarmed suspect.
If Sessions had been attorney general, there would have been no Ferguson investigation. Those police departments operating under a consent decree, negotiated with this administration, can expect the Justice Department to stand down.
In the era of Holder and Lynch, people of color were able to look to Washington when their local municipalities failed them. Even if they did not always get the brand of justice they wanted, activists routinely found an open door at the Justice Department. The days of inviting community activists in for a sit-down with top level staffers are over. With Sessions at the helm, those doors will be shut and Katy-barred.
When the American people went to the polls Nov. 8, we were not only electing a president—we were elected his Cabinet-level appointees as well as 4,000 other federal agency employees who make policy every day. By electing Trump, we also elected the likes of Bannon, Sessions, and Ret. General Michael Flynn, who said fear of Muslims was “rational.”
Republicans control the Senate, which is unlikely to reject one of its own no matter how contentious the confirmation hearing becomes.
“What do you have to lose?” Donald Trump boomed on the campaign trail, saying black people lived in crime-ridden, impoverished neighborhoods with broken schools. If the answer was not clear before, it is abundantly so now: Everything.