More Opposition to Sen. Sessions as his Confirmation Hearings Loom

SESSIONS ‘HOSTILE TO EVERY COMMUNITY’ THAT DOJ PROTECTS:  Congressional Black Caucus members. Common Cause. And a national coalition of groups fighting to end domestic violence and sexual assault. These are the latest opponents of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General to get news media coverage in advance of his confirmation hearings next week (from CNN, Huffington Post, and another Huffington Post article, respectively).

“He has been hostile to every community that DOJ is supposed to protect from discrimination,” Indiana Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, a Black Caucus member, told reporters. Karen Hobert Flynn, the Common Cause president, said, “His past statements and actions indicate that if confirmed as attorney general he would fail to fully uphold the Voting Rights Act as it stands today.” Warned the coalition of women’s advocates, “Senator Sessions’ history leads us to question whether he will vigorously seek to ensure that all victims and survivors of gender-based violence, particularly vulnerable populations and those at the margins of society, have access to vitally needed services and legal protections.”

Our sister organization the Alliance for Justice has actively documented decades of gaps in Sessions’ replies to a Senate questionnaire (see Gavel Grab), gaining AFJ mention in recent Daily Beast and Salon accounts. In other coverage, The Washington Examiner blogged about an ad blitz in support of Sessions from the Judicial Crisis Network, and Mark Oppenheimer wrote in a Los Angeles Times commentary about Sessions’ “belief that prosecutors are at a disadvantage, indeed are something of an endangered species, overrun by the vicious defense bar.”

DEMOCRATS DISCUSS COURT NOMINATION APPROACH: A blog of The Washington Post reported, “Democrats stumble toward a Supreme Court strategy,” and a Politico headline said, “Biden: Democrats should give Trump’s SCOTUS nominee a hearing and a vote.” (See an earlier Gavel Grab post about Democratic Leader Charles Schumer’s hard-line remarks.) Meanwhile, Robert Schlesinger wrote at US News & World Report, “The New Supreme Precedent: Republicans rewrote Supreme Court confirmation rules last year – now they have to live with them.”

In The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse said she wished Chief Justice John Roberts had spoken out in his year-end report to say that Senate Republicans’ refusal to fill a Supreme Court vacancy for almost a year “was an unfortunate development that should not be permitted to become the norm.” And at Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman discussed “The Incredible Shrinking Supreme Court.”

NAACP Faults Sessions on Voting Rights, Prosecutions, Past Remarks

‘MASSIVE RESISTANCE’ TO SESSIONS’ CONFIRMATION: A drumbeat of criticism leveled against Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, over past racially hostile statements and conduct continues to mount.

A sit-in by civil rights activists at his office in Mobile resulted in six arrests, including that of the national NAACP president and CEO, Cornell William Brooks. Here are excerpts from a NPR report:

“The NAACP highlighted Sessions’ history with voting rights as a major factor in the protest. Brooks told The Associated Press that Sessions ‘does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud.’ He also noted that Sessions once prosecuted civil rights activists on charges of voter fraud. As NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported, those charges were dismissed by a jury, and civil rights groups described the prosecution as attempted intimidation of black voters.”

“The NAACP cited Sessions’ ‘record of racially offensive remarks and behavior’ as another reason the group objects to his nomination.”

Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who once participated in the defense team representing the activists acquitted of voter fraud, issued a “scathing indictment” of Sessions, according to Mother Jones USA Today reported, “Alabama family divided on Jeff Sessions’ AG nomination,” while Rich Lowry wrote in Politico, “The Sessions smear.” An Esquire headline declared, “Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General Bid Is Encountering Massive Resistance.”

McCONNELL DISMISSES SCHUMER WARNING: NBC News reported, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed a pledge from his Democratic counterpart to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, insisting ‘the American people simply will not tolerate’ such a move” (see Gavel Grab for background about Democratic Leader Sen. Charles Schumer’s statements, responding in part to a year-long GOP blockade of President Obama’s nominee for the court).

Politico had an article about “the Supreme Court war” between the two Senate leaders that’s beginning. A New York Times op-ed by Richard A. Arenberg, meanwhile, asserted that Republicans ought not weaken the filibuster, and Amber Phillips wrote in The Fix blog of The Washington Post, “Politically, Senate Democrats don’t have nearly as much cover as Republicans did last year to block a president’s Supreme Court nominee, which means their attempts to do so could backfire and potentially even do more harm to their already grim hopes in 2018 of trying to take back control of the Senate.”

AFJ IN THE NEWS: Our sister organization Alliance for Justice was cited as the source for NorthJersey.com’s saying in an editorial that federal judge nominee Julien Neals’ “wait is longer than any other current nominee.” The editorial said Neals should be a federal judge.

AFJ Leaders Question Attorney General Pick’s Ties to a ‘Hate Group’

SESSIONS’ TIES SPARK REACTION: Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Attorney General nominee, delivered speeches to a hate group in recent years, leaders of our sister organization the Alliance for Justice said in statements quoted by EURweb.com. They voiced concern about his ties to the hate group, based on Sessions’ mention of the speeches in a supplement he submitted for a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

The AFJ leaders referred to speeches to The David Horowitz Freedom Center. It is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups. “Sen. Sessions’ deep ties to a hate group are deeply troubling and should be of concern to all Americans,” said Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and an AFJ Board of Directors member. “Sen. Sessions needs to explain not only why he initially omitted his speeches to the David Horowitz Freedom Center from his [initial] SJQ, but why he chose to associate with this hate group in the first place,” said AFJ President Nan Aron.

EURweb.com describes itself as the Electronic Urban Report. The senator’s nomination is getting lots of other scrutiny, including from The Anniston (Al.) Star in a recent editorial; from The New York Times in an editorial about secret arrests of individuals in Louisiana; and from The Desert Sun in a news article about deporting immigrants.

OPPORTUNITY FOR TRUMP TO SHAPE THE COURTS: BuzzFeed News reported, “Court Vacancies Offer Trump An Early Opportunity To Leave A Lasting Legacy; More than 100 federal judgeships will be vacant when Donald Trump becomes president — a higher number than the past two presidents had when they took office.” Noah Feldman wrote at Bloomberg View, “Scalia’s Legacy on the Court Looks Surprisingly Secure,” and Evan Bernick and Clark Neily had a USA Today opinion titled, “Peril and promise on Trump’s Supreme Court list.”

In a year-end article about the long-stalled judicial nomination of Julien Neals, Bergen County (New Jersey) counsel and acting county administrator, NorthJersey.com reported that the 674 days he will have been waiting at year’s end  “is longer than any other current nominee,” according to the Alliance for Justice.

Will ‘Prosecutorial Misconduct’ Accusation Plague Sessions?

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.”

Greenhouse: If Pryor is Picked for High Court, a Filibuster Might Prevail

Judge Pryor

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.”

LDF Scores Sessions’ ‘Vehement Opposition to Civil Rights,’ Equality

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.”

Senate Foes Vow No Deference to Colleague Sessions on Key Issues

SESSIONS, ALLIES GIRD FOR BRUISING HEARINGS: Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the nominee for Attorney General, is expected to face bruising confirmation hearings next month, according to lengthy articles by USA Today and Politico.

“Democratic members of the Senate [Judiciary Committee] and Sessions’ current colleagues are promising no senatorial deference on the old questions of racial tolerance, his unstinting support of anti-immigration measures, opposition to gay rights and his embrace of harsh interrogation tactics,” USA Today reported. It noted the allegations of racism lodged against Sessions when he was nominated decades ago for a federal judgeship; the same Senate committee did not support that nomination on a bipartisan vote in 1986.

“Given his record, his nomination as the chief law enforcement officer for the country should send a shiver up the spine of every American,”  former Justice Department attorney J. Gerald Hebert, who testified against Sessions in 1986, said recently. “He’s just not a Republican conservative,” Hebert added. “He’s a racist.”

Politico reported, “’There is a lot of rightful focus on the really divisive past of Sen. Sessions,’ said Scott Simpson, the director of media and campaigns for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights organizations. ‘The key thing to understand is that Sen. Sessions hasn’t given any indication that he’s changed throughout his Senate career.’” Sessions and allies are preparing an “image makeover,” Politico said.

FEDERAL COURTS: A separate Politico article was headlined, “Trump set to reshape judiciary after GOP blockade: The Senate left town with 99 judicial vacancies, as well as the current Supreme Court opening.” The Empirical SCOTUS blog looked at political contributions in a post titled, “What The Money Says About Federal Judges on Trump’s SCOTUS List.”

STATE COURT NEWS: Amid a flurry of special-session legislating, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported, “NC lawmakers create partisan election process for courts that review their laws.” The action followed Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s defeat on Election Day by Democrat Roy Cooper. Legislators also voted to put restrictions on Cooper’s authority to make political appointments, and another News & Observer article examined “How courts could view moves to strip Roy Cooper’s power.”

AFJ: What is Sessions ‘Trying to Hide?’

AFJ CRITICIZES ‘GLARING’ HOLES IN SESSIONS’ REPLY: “What’s Sen. Jeff Sessions trying to hide?” asks Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, in a Huffington Post essay. “That’s the unavoidable question raised by numerous omissions in information that Sessions has submitted to a Senate panel, which is planning to consider his nomination as U.S. Attorney General in hearings beginning on Jan. 10.”

“Lawyers are trained in the skills of precision and detail, as I can attest from my own personal experience as an attorney. But the Alabama Republican’s responses to the Senate Judiciary (Committee) Questionnaire are chock full of holes. They’re glaring,” Aron writes. She concludes, “Surely the president-elect and Republican Senate leaders want to avoid any public perception of a ‘rigged’ nomination process occurring in the days before Trump takes his oath of office. This can be averted today by putting the brakes on the rush to Jeff Sessions’ confirmation.”

About the looming fight over Sessions’ nomination, NBC News said, “Groups on the left are ratcheting up their criticism of Sessions on issues such as immigration, criminal justice and voting rights while those supporting him are unveiling the first component of what is expected to be a vigorous campaign in his favor.” Other coverage and commentary included Washington Examiner, “ConfirmSessions.com launched by conservative legal group”; Latin American Herald Tribune, “Latino Leaders Oppose Sessions’ Appointment as Attorney General”; Arn Pearson of People for the American Way at Salon, “Will Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice drain Donald Trump’s swamp?” and a Washington Post editorial, “Donald Trump has a lot to learn from [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch.”

SUPREME COURT VACANCY: Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Sykes and Judge William Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit “are among the top contenders” for selection by President-elect Trump to serve on the Supreme Court, CNN.com reported, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the process. Veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston, meanwhile, had an article headlined, “Final plea for Senate vote on Court nominee.”

Coalition Calls Sessions’ Responses to Questionnaire ‘Woefully Inadequate’

NO CHANGE YET FOR PLANNED EARLY HEARINGS: A coalition of civil rights groups said material submitted by Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General, in response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire “lacks hundreds of entries that should have been included and is woefully inadequate in its current form,” according to news reports. Committee Chairman Charles Grassley turned down requests for a delay and said confirmation hearings will nonetheless proceed on Jan. 10, well before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

The Washington Times and Huffington Post reported on the coalition’s concerns. The coalition includes our sister organization, Alliance for Justice. Among omissions, the coalition said, was mention of Sessions’ failed nomination for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, amid allegations he had made racist remarks; according to Huffington Post, Sessions on Wednesday supplemented his responses to the Judiciary Committee to include the failed nomination.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will become top Democrat on the committee next month, and the coalition separately asked for a delay in the hearing schedule. Feinstein noted that more than 150,000 pages of documents were submitted by the nominee.

Grassley wrote to Feinstein, “Far from delaying our review, Senator Sessions’ extensive public record — including service known personally to members of this Committee — should aid the determination of his character and qualifications for this high office on a timeline consistent with prior nominations, if not earlier.”

U.S. SUPREME COURT VACANCY: President-elect Trump will announce his pick to fill a Supreme Court vacancy around his inauguration next month, a senior aide said, according to Reuters and other news outlets.

STATE COURT NEWS: No bills filed for a special session of the North Carolina legislature “included a proposal to expand the state Supreme Court from seven to nine justices by adding two conservative-leaning members,” The Winston-Salem Journal reported (see Gavel Grab for background about the controversy). One new bill, however, “would restore partisan affiliation to Supreme Court races.”

And another, according to The Charlotte Observer, “would shift power from the N.C. Supreme Court that will be controlled by Democrats to the 15-member state Court of Appeals that will have a Republican majority.” This is a post-Election Day proposal, the newspaper explained. “The Nov. 8 election shifted the political makeup of the state Supreme Court to a 4-3 Democratic majority, while Republicans won five seats on the appeals court that is one step below the Supreme Court.”

Sessions Omitted Failed Judicial Nomination in His Reply to Panel

OMISSIONS IN SESSIONS’ REPLIES TO QUESTIONNAIRE: Sen. Jeff Sessions, nominated as Attorney General, failed to mention in answers to a lengthy Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that he was not confirmed for a federal judgeship in 1986 after President Reagan had nominated him, according to multiple news reports. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, says he did not turn over information about what Republican political candidates he has endorsed in recent years and some speeches he delivered on behalf of Donald Trump.

Feinstein, who will become top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee next month, “sought to pump the brakes on the Sessions nomination” on Tuesday, NPR reported. Two days of hearings are set to being Jan. 10. Feinstein said lawmakers need enough time to study the nominee’s lengthy record. The NPR report was headlined, “Is Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Trying to Paper Over His Record?”

Related coverage and commentary included Politico, “Senate already bickering over Sessions”; VICE News, “Jeff Sessions wants the Senate to know he did a lot of work on civil rights cases”; The Selma Times-Journal op-ed by Hank Sanders, “Sessions cannot do justice as head of justice dept.”; CNN, “Colleague, transcripts offer closer look at old allegations of racism against Sen. Jeff Sessions”; and Paul G. Cassell and Steven J. Twist at Fox News, “Why Jeff Sessions, a conservative attorney general, would be best for crime victims.”

SUPREME COURT VACANCY: Surveying a Trump presidency and a shorthanded Supreme Court with some aging justices, Scott Lemieux wrote at New Republic, “It’s Not Looking Good for Roe v. Wade:
One Trump Supreme Court pick probably won’t change the status quo. But two definitely will.” Ariane de Vogue of CNN also zeroed in on the Supreme Court in reporting, “How Trump’s election reignites the abortion wars.”