Senate Confirms Sessions as Attorney General

SENATE CONFIRMS JEFF SESSIONS AS ATTORNEY GENERAL: After long and tense partisan debate, the Senate voted to confirm Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. Senator Joe Manchin was the only Democrat to vote for him, NPR reported.

Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, criticized Republicans for their conduct in the hearing and confirmation process and said it “represents a low point in the history of the Senate” in a statement. Aron argued that this “raises the stakes for the upcoming hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. It is essential that the process for Gorsuch be thorough, deliberative, and respectful of all sides, and that Gorsuch fully answer questions about his ability to be an independent check on the executive branch as the Constitution prescribes.”

TRUMP ACCUSES BLUMENTHAL OF LYING ABOUT GORSUCH CRITICISMS: Senator Richard Blumenthal said that Judge Neil Gorsuch told him he found Trump’s attacks on Judge Robart, the federal judge who blocked his travel ban, “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Gorsuch’s spokesman Ron Bonjean confirmed that Gorsuch used those words in his meeting with Blumenthal. The quotes were also confirmed by other senators, reported CNN.

Despite the criticisms being confirmed, Trump accused Blumenthal of lying about what Gorsuch said in a tweet: “Sen.Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?”

In response to Trump’s disbelief, Blumenthal stated “there’s no question that Judge Gorsuch said to me that he found these attacks on the judiciary to be disheartening and demoralizing,” quoted The Washington Examiner. “He made that statement to me, his spokesperson confirmed it, in fact he has made that same statement to many of my colleagues.”

Blumenthal went onto urge Gorsuch to “make that statement publicly,” yet Gorsuch declined. “Behind closed doors, Judge Gorsuch expressed disappointment with President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, but a Supreme Court Justice must prove that he has the courage and independence to stand up to a President in public,” Blumenthal said, according to The Hill.

CNN: Sen. Warren Silenced During Sessions Debate

ELIZABETH WARREN SILENCED BY SENATE GOP: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell charged Senator Elizabeth Warren with violating Senate rules against impugning another senator during a Tuesday night floor speech opposing Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, reported CNN.

Warren was reading from a letter written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., which opposed Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship. The letter stated that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.”

McConnell claimed that Warren’s reading of the letter violated Rule XIX, which prohibits Senators from ascribing “to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”  Senate Republicans upheld the rebuke by a vote of 49 to 43, which removes Warren’s ability to speak during the remaining hours of debate on Sessions’ nomination, according to NBC.

Senator Cory Booker stated that he was “proud tonight of Sen. Warren. She stood and told her truth. To see this body act as it did tonight is disappointing to me,” reported The Hill. Booker tweeted that McConnell didn’t just silence Warren – “he silenced civil rights icon Coretta Scott King.”

TRUMP TO MEET WITH MODERATE DEMOCRATS TO GAIN GORSUCH VOTE: President Trump invited Senate Democrats from multiple red states to lunch “in hopes of wooing their support for his Supreme Court nominee,” reported CNN. The four senators invited are all up for reelection in 2018, and among the 10 senators facing pressure from conservative and liberal groups – including our sister organization Alliance for Justice, reported Time.

“It’s full steam ahead,” Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, told Time. “We plan to win this fight.”

Alliance for Justice was also listed among SCOTUSblog’s key groups in the Supreme Court confirmation process.

IMMIGRATION BAN LIKELY TO GO TO SCOTUS: “A Justice Department lawyer on Tuesday said courts should not second-guess President Trump’s targeted travel ban, drawing skepticism from a three-judge federal appeals panel weighing the limits of executive authority in cases of national security,” reported The New York Times.

The court is expected to deliver its decision on President Trump’s immigration ban within days. However, “no matter how the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rules — in a decision that is expected within days — an appeal to the United States Supreme Court is likely,” the Times continued.

Opinion: American People Will Reject Gorsuch Nomination

NAN ARON: TRUMP MUST PICK AN ALTERNATIVE NOMINEENan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, predicted that “the American people and Senate will reject the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch” in an opinion piece at The Nation. “We are confident Americans will conclude that to avert a disaster, Donald Trump will have to find an alternative nominee who is unflinchingly independent; who recognizes the progress made in our nation over the past 100 years; and who when seated on the Court will take the American people not forward, not backward,” stated Aron.

In response to the criticism leveled at Gorsuch, Trump has repeated his calls for the Senate to “go nuclear” to get Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. “If we end up with that gridlock I would say if you can, Mitch, go nuclear,” Trump said, according to The New York Times. “That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web.” McConnell has thus far denounced Trump’s urgings to use the nuclear option, stating that it will be a decision made by the Senate – not the president.

INCREASING PENALTIES FOR PROTESTERS: Lawmakers in Republican-controlled statehouses are introducing legislation that will restrict the rights of protesters. In North Dakota, “a lawmaker has introduced a bill that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as the driver did not do it intentionally. Bills that would increase penalties on unauthorized protests have also been introduced in Michigan and Washington. Last week in Minnesota, a House committee approved legislation that would increase penalties and charge demonstrators the cost of policing protests,” reported NPR.

Trump to Announce SCOTUS Pick February 2nd

TRUMP NARROWS SCOTUS LIST TO FOUR?: Above the Law reported that Judges Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman, William Pryor, and Raymond Kethledge top Trump’s list for the Supreme Court. The National Law Journal outlined a few key facts on Gorsuch, including his opposition to class actions.

Judge Gorsuch has “challenged the notion that courts should defer to administrative agencies when they interpret the law,” according to CNN. Gorsuch’s position on the issue “is more extreme than Justice Scalia…it would be hard to overstate the damage it would cause this nation and the American people,” Dan Goldberg, legal director of our sister organization Alliance for Justice told CNN.

“We are prepared to oppose every name on Trump’s list,” Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, said in a New York Times article. “The progressive, civil rights community will be united in opposition to either of those prospects or anyone else on the list.”

President Trump announced via Twitter that he will name his nominee next Thursday, February 2nd.

LAWSUIT SEEKS MORE INFORMATION ON SESSIONS: A suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asserts that eight federal agencies have failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to Sen. Jeff Sessions’ record. According to The Hill, journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, who filed the suit, feel the record will “shed light on Sessions’ history as a state and federal attorney general and as a lawmaker.”

At the Montgomery Advertiser, Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra warned that Sessions “misrepresents ‘equal and impartial justice,’” stating that “his extensive record – at times defying fundamental protections written in the text and underscored by the history of the U.S. Constitution – offers little evidence that he can be ‘the People’s lawyer’ and fairly execute the mission of the Department his is nominated to lead.”

Politico: Trump Plans to Announce SCOTUS Nominee Next Week

TRUMP TO DISCUSS SCOTUS WITH MCCONNELL, SCHUMER, FEINSTEIN: “President Donald Trump will meet Tuesday afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discuss his Supreme Court choice, according to an administration official,” Politico reported.  

McConnell stated that he is “confident we’ll get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed,” in a FOX News Sunday interview. McConnell has also refused to rule out the use of the “nuclear option,” which would reduce the majority needed to confirm the nominee from 60 to 51 votes.

According to the LA Times, Judge Neil Gorsuch is now the leading contender for Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. 

SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE DELAYS SESSIONS VOTE: Senator Dianne Feinstein requested to delay the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General nomination until next week, citing the need for more time to review the nominee and his records. “This nomination is a very big deal,” said Feinstein in an article at The Hill. “Our staff needs time to go through these answers, and we need time to put them in context.”

The vote will be held next week.

SESSIONS WILL NOT RECUSE HIMSELF FROM DOJ TRUMP INVESTIGATIONS: Sessions expressed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is “not aware of a basis to recuse myself” from investigations involving the president and does not see a problem in impartiality, despite his role in Trump’s campaign for the presidency, reported Politico. “If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed,” said Sessions.

CNN: Trump Has “a Good Sense” of His SCOTUS Nominee

“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. 

Bloomberg BNA put out a short profile on Judge Steven Colloton, who is also thought to be near the top of Trump’s list. Bloomberg drew attention to two of Colloton’s opinions in favor of Tyson Foods Inc., which “are a prime example of how a more conservative court could make it harder for workers to bring wage claims against employers,” according to our sister organization Alliance for Justice. 
OBAMA’S JUDICIAL LEGACY: President Obama nominated over 300 federal judges in his presidency – most of whom were “either women, African Americans or persons of color,” reported NBC. The piece quoted the president of our sister organization, Nan Aron, who noted that unfortunately, “Republicans slow-walked or stonewalled dozens of federal judicial nominations.”

USA Today Editorial: Sessions “Would Not Be Our Choice”

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.

AFJ: Nomination Fight Could Be Biggest in Supreme Court’s History

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.”

NY Times Editorial Demands to Know, ‘What Are You Hiding, Jeff Sessions?’

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.”

SUPREME COURT VACANCY: “Fresh off spending more than $7 million to keep [a Supreme Court] seat vacant under President Barack Obama, the deep-pocketed Judicial Crisis Network will plow at least $10 million into advertisements urging a number of moderate Senate Democrats to support [Donald] Trump’s choice,” Politico reported. Federal appeals court Judge Thomas Hardiman, on a list of potential Trump picks, was profiled by Newsweek, and David Lat handicapped Trump’s “shortlist” at Above the Law blog.

On Supreme Court Nominations, Democratic Leader Takes a Hard Line

Schumer

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.”