This evening the Senate found Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren out of order for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee with regard to Jeff Session’s 1986 nomination to serve as a federal judge in Alabama. Senator Warren was shocked and responded,
I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are
not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell would not yield and the Senate censored Senator Warren for speaking the truth, something which is under heavy attack in Washington today.
In 1986, a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 against the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to serve as a federal judge for the Southern District of Alabama largely due to allegations of racial prejudice on his part – including comments that he viewed the NAACP as “un-American” and favorable comments towards the KKK. To date, Sessions nomination was one of only 10 district court nominations rejected in the past 74 years.
During the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of Session’s nomination, Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote to the Committee to:
express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
Mrs. King’s full letter and statement are below.
Mrs. King died in January 2006. Later that year, Congress passed the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 – which reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enacted in response to Selma’s Bloody Sunday. The bipartisan legislation passed the House 390-33 and passed the Senate 98-0.
In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated some of the enforcement mechanisms of the 2006 voting rights amendments in Shelby County v Holder. Senator Sessions hailed the result as “good news . . . for the South.” Since this decision, voter suppression measures have spread throughout the south and elsewhere and, despite the fact that the 2006 amendments were passed with near unanimity, there has not been a single hearing or vote on legislation to restore the enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act.
Senator Sessions was the first Republican Senator to endorse the Trump campaign and he has been rewarded with the nomination for Attorney General. In response, 1330 law professors from 178 schools in 49 states urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nomination.. The letter explains:
In 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan vote, rejected President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of then-U.S. Attorney Sessions for a federal judgeship, due to statements Sessions had made that reflected prejudice against African Americans. Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge.
Tonight, Elizabeth Warren confronted the Republicans and the Trump administration with Senator Sessions documented history of racial animus by reading from the 1986 Mrs. King submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Republicans, however, responded by censoring her, but they cannot hide their complicity in the Trump administration’s hostility to civil rights and open embrace of white supremacy.
This censorship and cowardice in approving such an unfit candidate to sit at the same desk as Robert F. Kennedy will not be soon forgotten. As Peter Gabriel wrote in Biko
You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher