Though a number of civil rights groups have already urged the Senate to block President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s appointment of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the United States’ Attorney General, one of the nation’s oldest turned up the heat of its rhetoric on Tuesday.
In simultaneous press conferences at Sessions’ offices in Mobile, Montgomery, Huntsville, Birmingham and Dothan, speakers gathered to discuss a number of concerns the NAACP has with the senator’s voting record as well as some of his now-notorious past comments.
Since his announcement as Trump’s pick for AG, Sessions has been under increased scrutiny that has led to the rehashing of old accusations levied against him during Senate confirmation hearings for a federal judgeship he was tapped for in 1986.
Ultimately, the Senate did not confirm their future colleague for the judgeship at the time based — at least in part — on testimony that accused Sessions of exhibiting racist behavior and making racially disparaging comments during his tenure as a U.S Attorney in Mobile.
Bernard Simelton Sr., President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, specifically referred to testimony given by the late Thomas H. Figures, who worked under Sessions as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Back in 1986, Figures testified to Sessions regularly referring to him as “boy,” and once telling him “be careful what you say to white folks.”
To Simelton, if the Senate deemed Sessions “too racist” then, he’s still “too racist” in 2017.
“These are the kind of things that we should not have in an Attorney General. We’ve got to have someone that looks beyond the color of a person’s skin and looks at the human, social, and civil rights of the individual,” Simelton said. “I’ll tell you today, Senator Jeff Sessions is not the person for that job.”
In their press conference in Mobile, NAACP leaders from the state and national level highlighted those concerns and also addressed comments Sessions has previously made about their own organization — one he called “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
However, NAACP President and CEO Dr. Cornell William Brooks, stayed primarily focused on voting rights, bringing up Alabama’s own voter ID requirements and the Shelby County lawsuit that caused a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Brooks said with his support and praise of those decisions, Sessions had been “struck mute” when confronted with “voter suppression in his own state.”
“Senator Sessions has been an unreliable supporter of the Voting Rights Act, at best, and more often and most likely a hostile enemy of the right to vote,” Brooks said. “He’s not qualified to enforce the Voting Rights Act if he can’t acknowledge the very voter suppression that makes the Voting Rights Act necessary.”
Brooks also referenced Sessions’ hometown of Selma, suggesting that Session’s appointment would be a contradiction to the city’s significance in the quest for the African-American voting rights and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
In recent years, the NAACP has joined lawsuits in a number of states challenging restrictions at the polls. So far, the organization has been successful in having restrictive voting laws stricken down in Texas and North Carolina. A case challenging Alabama’s voter ID law is still pending.
Other than voting rights, Brooks championed recent strides by federal authorities to further investigate and evaluate the nation’s thousands of law enforcement officers. Brooks described America as being in a “perilous moment,” citing statistics on civilians killed by law enforcement officers as well as the country’s growing number of incarcerated.
In contrast, Sessions has echoed Trump’s calls for “law and order” when speaking on the unrest and protests seen around the country in response to officer-involved shootings and use-of-force.
In that respect, Brooks suggested Sessions could likely undo the progress towards police reform that’s been made under outgoing President Barack Obama’s two AG appointments, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.
“Our children are insisting with their minds, their hearts and their bodies that black lives matter because they understand that black lives matter is the moral predicate to the ethical conclusion that all lives matter. Unless the first is true the second can never be,” Brooks said. “Now we have a President-Elect who wants to lift someone to the highest law enforcement office in the land who does not recognize that black lives indeed matter.”
As was the case at all of the five press conferences Tuesday, Brooks urged the Senate to block Sessions’ appointment as attorney general. He also asked Trump to rescind the nomination and Sessions himself to withdraw his own name from consideration.
“Alabamians gave their lives for the right to vote. We will vote and fight for that right, and that means we will oppose Senator Jeff Sessions with everything within us until the last possible moment,” Brooks added. “We are qualified for this fight because of the sacrifices we’ve made. He is unqualified for the office he seeks because of the sacrifices he has not made on behalf of those who gave so much.”
UPDATE: Shortly after the scheduled press conference concluded at 11 a.m., Brooks and other members of the NAACP staged a sit-in at Sessions’ office in Mobile that last until nearly 7 p.m. Tuesday evening.
Officers from the Mobile Police Department responded to the scene after the office space closed, where five protesters were arrested for trespassing including Brooks, Simelton and Mobile County NAACP Branch President Lizzetta McConnell. Each of the arrests occurred without incident.
As police enter Sessions’ office Brooks told them they were “willing to be arrested,” and, in fact, others went so far as to say that being arrested was the ultimate goal of the 7-hour sit-in.
“We are aware of the law regarding trespassing,” Brooks told the officers. “We are engaging in a voluntary act of civil disobedience. We tried to conduct ourselves in a peaceful and nonviolent manner. We certainly want to thank the staff for their hospitality and for being so courteous.”
As of 8 p.m., Sessions’ staff had yet to release a statement about the incident. Lagniappe will update this story when and if that occurs.