“I THINK IN MY MIND I KNOW WHO IT IS”: Trump has “a good sense” of who he plans to nominate to the Supreme Court, according to CNN. CNN reported that Judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes are widely considered to be at the top of his list.
CIVIL RIGHTS RECORD CONTINUES TO PLAGUE SESSIONS: Sessions’ “encouraging promises” at his confirmation hearing “cannot erase his often hostile record on civil rights, nor grave concerns about whether he will rise to the toughest challenges of the job” of Attorney General, wrote the USA Today editorial board.
“As the nation marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, the future of civil rights in this country will soon rest in the hands of a new president and in large part his attorney general, who must champion the rights of all Americans. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for that job, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is a troubling one on that score,” the editorial continued.
Sessions’ troubling civil rights record has prompted multiple Democratic senators to reject Sessions, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif,), Al Franken (D-Minn,), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), reported The Huffington Post. According to Buzzfeed’s Legal Editor Chris Geidner, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Sessions’ nomination on January 24th.
TRUMP TEAM PREPS FOR SCOTUS BATTLE: Trump has started meeting with potential Supreme Court candidates – including Judge William Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit, according to Above the Law. Trump has previously vowed quick action to fill the empty Supreme Court Seat, with plans to announce a nominee “within about two weeks” of his inauguration, according to The New York Times.
Newsweek has published short profiles on three of the nominees; William Pryor, Diane Sykes, and Thomas Hardiman. Our sister organization, the Alliance for Justice, has reviewed all of the names on Trump’s short list, and has compiled the records and biographies of those individuals in their Trump Reports.
While Trump meets with potential nominees, his team, “led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is gently sussing out what it would take to win enough support in the Senate to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court — a surprisingly tough prospect with the threat of a filibuster looming and a quick deadline set by Trump,” reported CNN. Republicans need to sway eight Democrats to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to supersede any filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.
PREPARING FOR AN UNSPARING NOMINATION FIGHT: As President-elect Trump vowed to name a Supreme Court nominee within about two weeks of his inauguration, our sister organization Alliance for Justice warned of an all-out effort by its allies to defeat some of those he might pick. AFJ President Nan Aron told The New York Times, “This could be the biggest fight in the history of Supreme Court nominations.”
Trump’s nominee likely would return the court, now shorthanded with eight justices, to the same kind of philosophical divisions it saw before Justice Antonin Scalia died last year, and with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting a swing vote in a number of key cases. If Trump is faced with a second high court appointment, however, he “could transform American jurisprudence,” according to The Times.
“An entire century of progress could well crumble,” Aron told the newspaper. Trump has spoken publicly, including at a news conference on Wednesday, of picking justices in the mold of archconservative Scalia. Meanwhile, Justice Kennedy is 80 years old and the court’s senior liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, are 83 and 78, respectively. Other media reporting on Trump’s comments about the court on Tuesday included McClatchy, Reuters, CNN, and Politico. SCOTUSblog, profiling potential nominees, looked at William Pryor here and Steven Colloton here.
CIVIL RIGHTS IS FOCUS ON SESSIONS’ SECOND DAY: Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’ record “indicates that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts toward bringing justice to the justice system,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, NPR reported. NPR summed up: “Booker, the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow senator during a confirmation hearing, said Sessions’ record shows he won’t protect people of color, women, LGBT communities, immigrants or voting rights.”
Also testifying against the Alabama Republican’s confirmation were Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an icon of the civil rights movement, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. All three men are African-American, as are three witnesses who testified opposite them in Sessions’ support, including William Smith, the first African-American counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among other witnesses questioning or decrying Sessions’ civil rights record were leaders of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Related commentary and coverage included New York Times, “[Sen. Chuck] Schumer Will Oppose Confirmation of Jeff Sessions”; Salon, “Jeff Sessions would be a disaster for the LGBT community: Trump’s attorney general pick has spent his career opposing equality at every level”; Dallas Morning News editorial, “Jeff Sessions is wrong for attorney general; he should be rejected”; Newark Star-Ledger editorial, “Booker’s bad manners? Sessions deserves it”; and Ari Berman in The Nation, “Jeff Sessions Claims to Be a Champion of Voting Rights, But His Record Suggests Otherwise: He would be one of the most dangerous attorneys general in modern US history.”
HE REQUIRES ‘A THOROUGH VETTING,’ EDITORIAL SAYS: On the eve of confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s Attorney General nominee, a New York Times editorial headline asks, “What Are You Hiding, Jeff Sessions?” The editorial demands a thorough vetting of the Alabama Republican’s record and qualifications and tracks — and links to — a report by our sister organization, Alliance for Justice, and allied groups about glaring gaps in materials he has submitted in reply to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. The editorial states:
“If anyone requires a thorough vetting, it’s Mr. Sessions, the Republican senator from Alabama who trails behind him a toxic cloud of hostility to racial equality, voting rights, women’s rights, criminal justice reform and other issues at the heart of the Justice Department’s mandate. Yet in their eagerness to act on his nomination, Senate Republicans seem unconcerned that Mr. Sessions, who has made appropriate financial disclosures, has failed to turn over dozens — possibly hundreds — of documents that the committee specifically requests in its standard questionnaire, including transcripts of speeches, interviews, opinion pieces and other public remarks.”
“This sets up the first big test of Democrats’ willingness to push back against Mr. Trump’s radical cabinet picks. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, needs to take the lead in ensuring that Americans know as much as possible about the man who would be the nation’s top law-enforcement official. The attorney general is too important an office, and Mr. Sessions’s views are too extreme — as Republicans themselves saw 30 years ago — to allow his nomination to sail through without a fight.”
Three decades ago, Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship failed in the Republican-controlled Senate after a bipartisan committee vote. There was a flurry of news articles and commentary about Sessions’ latest nomination over the weekend, including TIME, “Jeff Sessions Hopes to Escape His History of Racial Controversy at Confirmation Hearing”; CNN.com, “Jeff Sessions faces ‘Washington’s bloodsport”; Daily Beast, “Jeff Sessions Wanted to ‘Drop the Case’ Against KKK Lynching, Attorney Testified”; Washington Post, “Jeff Sessions should have been a tough sell in the Senate, but he’s too nice”; John J. Donohue III and Max Schoening in a New York Times op-ed, “The Grim Reaper of Alabama”; and a New York Times profile, “Jeff Sessions, a Lifelong Outsider, Finds the Inside Track.”
SEN. SCHUMER INTERVIEWED ON MSNBC: Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer staked out on Tuesday a hard line over whomever President-elect Trump may pick for a Supreme Court vacancy. “We are not going to settle on a Supreme Court nominee,” he said on MSNBC, according to Politico. “If they don’t appoint someone who’s really good, we’re gonna oppose him tooth and nail.”
“When asked by host Rachel Maddow whether he would do his best to keep the [Justice Antonin] Scalia vacancy open, Schumer responded without hesitation: ‘Absolutely,’” Politico added. The New York senator said there would be “consequences” ahead for Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Obama’s nominee to the high court, Judge Merrick Garland; that nomination expired this week when members of the 115th Congress took their oaths of office, NBC News said.
In related coverage, Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker that “speed matters” when it comes to stopping a Supreme Court nominee, and he explored the Senate’s stonewalling of Garland’s nomination last year and the defeat of nominee Robert Bork in 1987. Robert Barnes of The Washington Post asserted that “it won’t be Mr. Trump’s first Supreme Court pick who will seal the court’s ideological direction for a generation. It will be, if and when it happens, his second.” A Los Angeles Times editorial condemned Republicans’ inaction on both the Garland appointment and those of lower-court nominees as “extreme and inexcusable.”
SESSIONS CONFIRMATION BATTLE A ‘PREVIEW’? CNN, meanwhile, reported, “Liberal groups are holding standing-room-only meetings to prepare for the confirmation hearings of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, but many in the room believe the battle will be a dry run for a much bigger fight: the confirmation of Donald Trump’s eventual Supreme Court nominee.”
Regarding coalition efforts to drive home to supporters the importance of the Supreme Court, President Nan Aron of our sister organization Alliance for Justice told CNN, “In the background lurks this very fixed idea that we are looking at a stolen seat, a seat that should have been filled by an Obama nominee who was forward looking not backward in his view of the Constitution.”
AFJ’s tracking of Sessions’ incomplete replies to a Senate questionnaire (see Gavel Grab) was mentioned in an opinion by Joan Walsh in The Nation, titled “Congressional Resistance to Trump Begins Now.” Other coverage and commentary included a Washington Post op-ed by J. Gerald Hebert, Joseph D. Rich and William Yeomans, “Jeff Sessions says he handled these civil rights cases. He barely touched them”; Washington Post, “More than 1100 law school professors nationwide oppose Sessions’s nomination as attorney general”; NBC News, “NAACP Stages Sit-In to Protest Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General Nomination”; Michael Tanner of The Cato Institute in National Review, “Conservatives Should Think Twice before Supporting Jeff Sessions”; and Marge Baker of People for the American Way in Huffington Post, “Jeff Sessions’ Relationship With Breitbart, ‘The Platform’ For The White Nationalist Alt-Right, Should Be Disqualifying.”
MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON GAPS IN SESSIONS’ RECORDS: After progressive groups including Alliance for Justice, our sister organization, spotlighted decades of records that Sen. Jeff Sessions has withheld from his replies to a Senate questionnaire, national news media jumped on the story over the long holiday weekend.
Huffington Post said Sessions, the Attorney General nominee, “left out major details from his years as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, from 1981 to 1993; as attorney general of Alabama, from 1995 to 1997; and as a first-term U.S. senator, from 1997 to 2002. The gaps encompass the time, for example, when Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986 ― and then rejected after being deemed too racist.”
It also said Sessions in the past “has chided previous nominees for failing to provide the committee with a full account of their backgrounds,” and quoted AFJ President Nan Aron as saying, “Sen. Sessions’ nomination package is still nowhere near ready for prime time, and it’s hypocritical that he so frequently slammed past nominees for submitting incomplete documents only to do the same thing himself.” Aron added, “So why not just slow down, give everyone the time they need to find everything and review everything, and not rush this really critical nomination through without allowing for due diligence.” Also reporting on the groups’ concerns and requests for a delay in his confirmation hearings were CNN and The Hill.
Meanwhile the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote a Chicago Sun-Times commentary, titled “Civil rights at risk under Sessions,” and WTVM.com reported, “NAACP National President to appear in Mobile to protest Sessions.”
TRUMP NARROWING LIST FOR SUPREME COURT? President-elect Trump’s eight frontrunners for a Supreme Court vacancy, according to Politico, are Judges William Pryor, Diane Sykes, Raymond Kethledge, Joan Larsen, Neil Gorsuch, Steven Colloton, Raymond Gruender, and Thomas Hardiman.
A separate Politico article suggested that Trump’s transition team is engaged in a dual-track selection process. “The thinking inside the transition, according to multiple people involved in the internal deliberations, is that [Justice Antonin] Scalia’s replacement offers Trump and the conservative movement the best chance for an unabashedly rock-ribbed replacement because it would not fundamentally shift the court’s balance of power,” according to Politico. Its article continued:
“But in the current search process, Trump’s team is also hoping to identify a conservative candidate — possibly a woman — who could be more politically palatable, or at least harder for Senate Democrats to oppose, if [Justices] Kennedy or Ginsburg leave the court.”
In related coverage, The Guardian reported, “Where the supreme court battle goes from here: ‘There will be a huge fight.'”
THE ‘STOLEN’ SUPREME COURT SEAT: The long-vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court was “stolen by top Senate Republicans” who blockaded President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, and the “damage … inflicted on the confirmation process, and on the court as an institution, may be irreversible,” a New York Times editorial declared.
“If Republicans could justify an election-year blockade, what’s to stop Democrats in the future from doing the same? For that matter, why should the party controlling the Senate ever allow a president of the opposing party to choose a justice?” the editorial asked. Looking ahead to Trump’s presidency and beyond, it concluded:
“The shameful, infuriating actions of the Senate Republicans won’t be ignored in the history books. In a desperate effort to keep a conservative majority on the court, they rejected their own professed values of preserving American institutions. There’s little hope that they will come to their senses now, but they and Mr. Trump have the power, and the obligation, to fix the mess they created.”
At a Washington Post blog, Aaron Blake wrote, “If there are one or two more vacancies on the court during Trump’s tenure, that could be the biggest, most enduring result of his victory”; and NPR reported, “From Delay To Action: The Supreme Court To Take A Conservative Turn In 2017.” A front-page Washington Post article looked beyond the Supreme Court bench to report, “Trump to inherit more than 100 court vacancies, plans to reshape judiciary.”
SESSIONS NOMINATION AS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, was quoted by LBGT Weekly as saying about Trump cabinet nominees: “Senate Democrats are right on target about this pattern of ‘slow-walking’ required submissions by Trump’s Cabinet nominees.” She added, “One of the most egregious examples is Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, who has left out entire decades of his career in responding to his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire. For example, he reported no radio or print interviews before 2002 or television interviews before 1998, no records of any speeches after June 2016, and no record of half of his published op-eds, although the SJQ asks for a complete history of speeches and media hits. We fully support Senators who are insisting not only that Sessions and fellow nominees complete their applications, but that Senators then get adequate time to review the material submitted.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post examined one of the most controversial aspects of Sessions’ record in an article titled, “Trump’s pick for attorney general is shadowed by race and history.”
CNN SPOTLIGHTS JUDGE’S STATEMENT FROM 1997: An Alabama judge issued an opinion and order in 1997 that accused the state attorney general’s office, which Jeff Sessions had headed, of severe prosecutorial misconduct, according to a CNN Politics report.
“The court finds that even having been given every benefit of the doubt, the misconduct of the Attorney General in this case far surpasses in both extensiveness and measure the totality of any prosecutorial misconduct ever previously presented to or witnessed by this court,” the judge wrote. Sessions is now a U.S. senator and nominee for U.S. Attorney General. The judge’s “blistering” opinion could come up as an issue for Sessions, CNN said, explaining that Sessions oversaw the case as the state’s top prosecutor. The judge ultimately dismissed the case, and Sessions did not mention it at all in replies to a questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee, CNN added.
CNN’s article came as The Hill reported, “Left, right prep for battle royal over Sessions.” Nearly 150 groups mobilizing to stop his confirmation “plan to make Sessions’s past comments about race the defining element in his confirmation battle,” The Hill said. To learn about concerns raised by our sister organization Alliance for Justice, see commentaries by AFJ President Nan Aron by clicking here and here. In other coverage and commentary, Kyle Barry of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund wrote at Medium, “Sessions Unchanged: The same hostility toward civil rights advocacy that cost Jeff Sessions a judgeship in the 1980s has been a central theme of his entire Senate career”; and a USA Today headline declared, “AG nominee Jeff Sessions reversed course on harsh drug sentence policy.”
SUPREME COURT VACANCY: President-elect Trump, in selecting his first Supreme Court nominee, “wants someone with deep conservative credentials to avoid the sort of surprises that have beset past Republican presidents. Someone young enough to ensure a long tenure. And maybe even a state court judge or someone without an Ivy League pedigree,” Bloomberg reported.
Paul Gordon of People for the American Way wrote at Huffington Post, “We will fight harder than ever to protect constitutional freedoms and hold Trump accountable if he seeks to appoint justices or lower court judges who’ll put ideology over the Constitution. And with 54 percent of voters actually voting against Trump, and the fact that he was helped into office by one of our nation’s most dangerous foreign enemies, Trump is nowhere near to having a mandate to push through far-right court nominees.”
ANALYSIS OF A JUDGE PRYOR NOMINATION: Senate Democrats could prevail in filibustering a Supreme Court nomination of federal Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama, longtime court analyst Linda Greenhouse writes in The New York Times. She calls Pryor “[o]ne of the most conservative of all federal judges” whose “extremism stands out starkly” among President-elect Trump’s list of 21 potential court picks, and she explains her prediction this way:
“The executive branch selections [to date] are so off the wall — at such variance with the way most Americans see the country — that objections to a high profile, lifetime, far-right appointment to the Supreme Court will tap into public sentiment that is now largely expressed as mere bafflement but soon enough will turn to real unease.
“And, after all, the vacancy is not legitimately President-elect Trump’s to fill. Senate Republicans snatched it from President Obama when for nine months they didn’t even deign to filibuster his distinguished nominee, Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That moment has passed, and the Democrats can’t snatch the seat back. But from their position on the high ground, the Democrats may ultimately be able to rally the country behind them to stop what could be the most damaging nomination of all.” Greenhouse’s view presumes that Senate Republicans do not change Senate rules to abolish the filibuster of Supreme Court nominations.
In addition, “[Sen.] Mitch McConnell Assaulted the Constitution (and Got Away With It),” William Greider writes at The Nation about the Senate Republicans’ blockade of Garland’s nomination.
AFJ IN THE NEWS ON SESSIONS’ NOMINATION: A Roll Call article profiles efforts by our sister organization Alliance for Justice and other groups to win a delay in planned confirmation hearings beginning Jan. 10 for Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions. “And it’s an indication,” Roll Call says, “of how the sides will parry early next year as Senate Republicans press forward and Senate Democrats push back as much as they can — including on a forthcoming Supreme Court nomination.” AFJ President Nan Aron, meanwhile, participates in a Legal Talk Network podcast opposite Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network about “The Supreme Court Under President Trump.”
Other coverage and commentary about the nomination of Sessions includes Los Angeles Times, “The long and complicated road to understanding Jeff Sessions and matters of race”; ABC News, “Clinton FBI Director Backs Trump’s Attorney General Pick Jeff Sessions, Defends His Records on Civil Rights”; Marge Baker of People for the American Way in the Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, “Sessions a dangerous pick for attorney general”; Thomas E. Mann at Brookings, “Trump, no ordinary president, requires an extraordinary response”; and Amy Smith at AL.com, “Alabama doesn’t send her best people to Washington.”
SESSIONS’ NOMINATION A ‘DOG WHISTLE’ TO EXTREMISTS: Only this year, Sen. Jeff Sessions “publicly praised a 1980s [Donald] Trump ad that called for the execution of the Central Park Five—five African-American young men who were fully exonerated five years ago. These are teens who spent nearly two decades in jail for a crime they did not commit, yet, Sessions still believes in 2016 that calling for their execution in 1989 was praise-worthy,” Janai S. Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund writes at Huffington Post, discussing what Nelson calls Sessions’ “long record of standing in vehement opposition to civil rights and equality.”
Sessions’ nomination to serve as Attorney General, Nelson continues, “is as much a threat to our democracy and dog whistle to political extremists within our borders as the discussion of creating a Muslim registry based on the same legal precedent used during World War II to establish Japanese internment camps. Moreover, misrepresentations and omissions in his response last week to the questionnaire that the Senate requires of all nominees underscore that Mr. Sessions lacks sufficient hands-on legal experience, possesses an abysmal record on civil rights, and is unlikely to exercise an independence from the president-elect who enters the Oval Office mired in legal troubles and conflicts of interest.” To learn more about the questionnaire and Sessions’ responses, see this blog post by Nan Aron, president of our sister organization the Alliance for Justice.
A Washington Post article, meanwhile, quotes Sessions as writing about immigration policy, “What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.” The newspaper reports, “To immigrant rights advocates, such talk sounds like justification for pursuing ‘nativist and xenophobic’ policies, said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.” At The Guardian, Margaret Burnham cites Sessions’ nomination as clear proof that President-elect “Trump is just the latest obstacle on the zigzagging course of racial progress.”
SUPREME COURT VACANCY: Justice Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court, who is on Trump’s list of 21 potential candidates for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, won re-election this year in one of 10 states that saw TV spending on judicial elections in excess of a million dollars, according to The Center for American Progress. Its assessment is titled, “The Million Dollar Judges of 2015-16: Independent Spending and Secret Money.”
In related coverage, Reuters reports, “U.S. chief justice refuses to force vote on Obama high court pick.”