IV. Our justice

Nomination of Jefferson B. Sessions III, to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Alabama; Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary (1986)

Hon. Strom Thurmond (Chairman) and Hon. Jeremiah Denton presiding. Also present: Senators Biden, Kennedy, Simon, Heflin, Specter, DeConcini, McConnell, and Metzenbaum.

(Opening Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy)

The confirmation of nominees
one of the most important responsibilities of the Senate
mandated by the U.S. Constitution
the last opportunity to determine
whether the candidate possesses education, experience, skills
most importantly commitment to equal justice

Once confirmed, a Federal judge
has life and death authority over citizens
limited review of his decisions
Mr. Sessions, U.S. attorney
for the Southern District of Alabama
comes with a record which, regrettably

includes presiding over
the infamous so-called Perry County
voting fraud prosecutions
Government indicted three highly respected
black civil rights activists
on charges of voter fraud in assisting
elderly black voters
to vote absentee

On more than one occasion characterized
the ACLU as un-American,
Communist-inspired
organization trying to force
civil rights down throats

Suggested a white civil rights lawyer
who litigated voting rights
a disgrace to his race

It is inconceivable that a person of this attitude
is qualified to be a U.S. attorney,
let alone a Federal judge.

Mr. Sessions is a disgrace
to the Justice Department
should withdraw his nomination
resign his position

(Opening Statement of Senator Howell Heflin)

Mr. Sessions is a native Alabamian

I approach these confirmation hearings
with the theory and presumption
that the President is entitled
to have his nominees confirmed

Mr. Sessions, I am here to listen
with an open mind
and wish you best of luck

Denton: in light of my friend
from Massachusetts’ opening statement
the main point I would like to make
to my colleagues is that
each one of these allegations has been prefaced
by a great deal of journalistic reporting, marches

Certain individuals from outside Alabama
suggested the administration and Reagan
the Justice Department and FBI
this Senator
are engaged in a conspiracy
to deprive black voters of their right to vote

We have voluminous examples of that journalism
which we will make available for the record

Charges characterize me
as behind some sort of conspiracy

I believe no one in this room believes that
Certainly no one in Alabama believes that
I never knew that Perry County things was going on
until I read it in the news

We will examine all that during the trial
I mean hearing [Laughter]

Not one black voter, Mr. Chairman
not one gave any indication whatsoever
of intimidation

Chairman Thurmond [who conducted longest filibuster
by lone senator, 24 hours 18 minutes, in opposition
to Civil Rights Act of 1957]: Mr. Sessions
would you summarize your background and experience?

Sessions: I graduated University of Alabama Law School
Began the practice in Russellville
With a very fine smalltown firm
We had one of the best law libraries

I participated in a case in the supreme court
that involved a car race accident with a guy from Freedom Hills
Then joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Mobile
defended a wrongful death case, civil cases, but primarily
criminal litigation of a very heavy nature

As U.S. attorney I have probably carried
the heaviest trial load of any in the country
Although I have not tried any civil cases
in my office civil attorneys
come and discuss strategy and so forth

The most painful thing that has ever been said
to me at any time
was when Senator Kennedy
said I was a disgrace to the office

Chairman: Mr. Sessions, there have been concerns
regarding prosecuting voter fraud

Sessions: The district attorney conducted grand jury investigation
in Perry County, which I am informed had
a black foreman majority black composition
Report said “We are convinced election is being denied
Primary problem appears to be tampering
of the right to vote of black citizens
Problems are intimidation at the polls, abuse and interference
with absentee balloting process
We encourage vigorous prosecution of all voting laws and request assistance”

It was the conclusion of our office
that probably there would not be any more fraud
And we just decided not
to do anything about it

We had no idea we might conduct investigation
in Perry until days before the September 4 primary
I’d really forgotten about the county

[Submitted letter inserted here addressed to Mr. Jeff Sessions
United States Attorney, from Gerald McDowell,
Chief, Public Integrity Section, Criminal Division]:
We understand information came to your attention
from a source you considered reliable
that Albert Turner, local political activist, and associates
intended to manipulate absentee ballots
mail the ballots at the post office
You requested surveillance
Turner and associate arrived with ballots
proceeded to the place them in the mail
Several contained indicia that they had been opened
Pursuant to _____ you are authorized to conduct
a federal criminal investigation

Kennedy: Just for the point of the record
are these the defendants that were found not guilty
that we are referring to?

Sessions: Yes, Sir; but—

Chairman Thurmond: Go ahead and answer; you have a right
Do not drop your voice
Speak out so we all hear you

Sessions: She said her vote for Billingslea had been crossed out
She voted for Eddie Perry not John Ward she voted for Warren Kinard
not Wilbert Turner, she voted for Ann Nichols not Tululah Nelson
and all those had been changed she testified

Chairman: As district attorney, was it your obligation
to go forward and prosecute?

Sessions: It certainly was. It was something we had been requested to do
by an official grand jury in that county, too
two years ago

Chairman: Mr. Sessions, certain comments have been attributed to you
“The National Council or Churches, NAACP, SCLC and PUSH
are un-American organizations with anti-traditional American values”

Sessions: Best I can recall, my former assistant
[Thomas Figures] who is black
Office across the hall from mine
I went over I chatted I philosophized
was over there regaling about
National Council of Churches, barreled on said
NAACP and other civil rights organizations
leave basic discriminatory questions, start getting
to matters of foreign policy, political issues
I did not mean any harm by it

Chairman: Now here is another “I though those guys ok
until I learned they smoked pot”

Sessions: That was a silly comment

We were investigating the hanging death of a young black man
Klansmen stopped him, drove him out in the woods
Brutally murdered him, cut his throat
Reading the report, I saw the Klan left the meeting
and gone out and smoked pot
To analogize it
I was saying I do not like Pol Pot
because he wears alligator shoes

It could not have meant anything else

Chairman: Another is
“you ought to be careful what you say to white folks”

Sessions: What you say to folks

Chairman: “You know the NAACP hates white people
That is why they bring these lawsuits, and they are
a commie group and pinko as well”

Sessions: I do not recall
I will admit I am pretty
loose with my tongue on occasion
I may have said something similar

Chairman Thurmond: You have referred to the Voting Rights Act
as an intrusive piece of legislation

Sessions: I do believe the Voting Rights Act is an intrusive piece of legislation
The Federal courts, Federal government
forced progress

Chairman: You stated a prominent civil rights attorney
was a disgrace to his race

Sessions: I understand that a statement has been made
I recall a conversation in which that was mentioned
I may have said maybe he is
I do not know why I would have said that

Biden: Mr. Sessions, we may be nitpicking
as to whether or not you use the word “nigger”
suggested the NAACP less than reputable

When you said “those bastards; I used to think
they were OK but they’re pot smokers”
I could see how someone could say that
humorously. Do you think it was insensitive
to say that in front of a black man
after a black man had been beaten and hung

It is suggested you stated to Mr. Wiley [former
Mobile County commissioner] “do not worry
John will be watching the nigger,” referring
to the only black commissioner

Metzenbaum: How many people did you hire
while you were U.S. attorney
And how many were black?

Sessions: No blacks. With attorneys, we never passed
over a black for a white below a black and I do not recall
having a black that qualified

Metzenbaum: You do not hire blacks
You refer to the NAACP and ACLU
which bring civil rights cases in your area
as pinko or un-American
you prosecute blacks for vote fraud, lose
Suppose you are a black person. Would you like
to submit a case to Judge Sessions, or would you
not feel you could get justice

(Sessions): They certainly can, they would get justice

Metzenbaum: That is not my question
My question to you is not
whether you are a racist
My question is could any black person
come into your court
and feel they had a chance

Sessions: You make them feel they are going to get justice
by treating them with respect

Metzenbaum: We have people around Washington
who are extremely polite, but that does not mean
I would want to submit a case with a black person
I know black people are here very much concerned

Heflin: I want to ask you about a reference
to one of the white lawyers for being a disgrace
to his race, for representing, I suppose, blacks
What is the context

Sessions: I was sitting as I recall in our library
Jerry Herbert from the Department of Justice came in
mentioned something about Jim Blacksher, great lawyer,
he mentioned something about disgrace to his race
I guess I would have said that
I guess I will not disagree with him
I do not know why I would make that comment

Heflin: According to the deposition, Mr. Herbert is saying
he heard one of the judges referred to the white lawyers
as disgrace to his race. Mr. Herbert has you replying
“well, maybe he is”
Is it your best recollection that you made that statement

Sessions: I was busy
As I recall trying to recollect on it best I could recall was
it would have been a passing comment

Simon: Let me read one statement
Mr. Herbert: “the general impression I get when we talk
about racial questions is he is not sensitive to race relations
I have gotten the impression
he thinks gerrymandering
for racially discriminatory reasons
is a definite way
that you can harm black voters
Mr. Herbert: “He said he thought [the NAACP and ACLU]
did more harm than good
were trying to force civil rights down the throats of people
trying to put problems behind them”

Sessions: I do not feel that I can say I concur in these statements

Kennedy: Was that a no or yes

Sessions: Some of that, I do not believe I said
In the context that he stated, as stated
I like to discuss things

One time Jerry and I have a conversation
about civil rights situation
how it stood, I made the comment
the fundamental legal barriers to minorities
had been knocked down
in many areas blacks dominate
what the civil rights organizations, ACLU
participate in asking for is
beyond what they’re justified in asking

Kennedy: What sort of actions are you talking about
that warrant un-American Communist

Sessions: As I stated
we were talking about the National Council of Churches
I said the NAACP does the same stuff gets outside of
legitimate civil rights issues
It is un-American to support the Sandinistas, say
third-world revolutionary theology

As I have stated earlier on that question
I had conversation with Mr. Hebert
and we discussed the general civil rights situation
in our country and area
and I enjoyed very much talking with him in a very relaxed manner

[a brief recess was taken]

Testimony of J. Gerald Hebert, Senior Trial Attorney, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice

Hebert: I have, Senator, very mixed feelings about my testimony today
I have prosecuted cases that are sensitive and unpopular in the southern district
I have needed Mr. Sessions help and he has provided every step
I consider him a friend

Denton: Do you think he has prejudice?

Hebert: I am not in a position
I do not know
He is a man of his word

Biden: Based on the comments Mr. Sessions has made
In jest or challenge or seriousness, whatever the collection
of contexts, if you left the Justice Department and were handling
a case for the NAACP, and it came before Judge Sessions
would you not make a motion to recuse?

Hebert: Absolutely

[end of Herbert’s testimony]

Heflin: Mr. Sessions, we have mentioned Mr. Thomas Figures
worked in your office for years. When he left
was there unpleasant

Sessions: Mr. Figures is a fine attorney
argues a case beautifully, prepares thoroughly
to a fault, perhaps, meticulous
is not an easy person to work with, in all honesty
He severed all communications after he left
We were in Selma, trying the case
when I heard he was quitting
It was quite a shock

Heflin: It has come to my attention
you remarked to Mr. Figures
you wish you could decline all civil rights cases

Sessions: No, sir

Heflin: I understand that on four occasions
you turned over Mr. Figures cases of investigation
asked Mr. Figures to recommend declination
when Mr. Figures concluded cases warranted reinvestigation
assigned the cases to another attorney who recommended declining

Sessions: I may have said “I do not know that you need more investigation”
Told him one time “Sure, the FBI gets tired, they do not want you to call up
ask for more and say ‘I have done all this investigation and now interview
five or six more witnesses’” I told him “You make them work”

Heflin: I understand, too, one case involving
the lynching of a young black man
Michael Donald
by Ku Klux Klan members
Mr. Sessions repeatedly urged Mr. Figures
to drop the case, only supported the investigation
when Mr. Figures refused to agree

Sessions: No, sir; that is not true

Heflin: There have been charges that in Conecuh County
the Department of Justice directed Mobile office to investigate
black voters harassed. It is alleged you countermanded the investigation

Sessions: It is possible I said “Don’t proceed on this case”
I had only been in a couple of months
may not have known policies

Biden: Mr. Sessions, you have been here a long time
I have more questions

But would you like a cup of coffee
A break

Sessions: a Coke might perk me up a bit

Biden: You have got two Cokes now
One from the minority and one from the majority

Sessions: Would you like one? You should be tired too

Biden: No. I should not kid. As you observed
kidding can get you in trouble. We will make a judgement
as to whether or not you come back

Denton: Mr. Sessions has shown endurance, perseverance
Mr. Sessions, you are prepared to come back
You are subject to future discussion

_

Written Testimony of J. Gerald Hebert On the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III For Attorney General of the United States, January 9, 2016

Thank you Mr. Chairman
This testimony presents my views as to the nomination
of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III
to Attorney General of the United States

In 1986, I testified before this Committee
when it considered, and rejected Mr. Sessions’ nomination
to the United States District Court
Shortly before the Sessions confirmation hearings
the Senate Judiciary Committee requested testimony
DOJ leadership directed us to do so
The sworn statements I made were the focus
of several Senators’ questions

When I arrived to attend the hearing, Senator Denton
and a Senate staffer to Chairman Strom Thurmond
took me into a back room. They told me to repair the damage
I had done to Mr. Sessions’ nomination
or my job would be in jeopardy

I would love nothing more than to be able to tell you
the man I considered a friendly acquaintance
has since proven himself to be a champion, even friend
for minorities in this country. I cannot
Everything in Mr. Sessions’ record since 1986
reinforces what was clear three decades ago
Jeff Sessions is a danger to civil rights

Mr. Sessions opposed efforts to ensure equal protection of the law for women, voting against equal pay, against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act; opposed efforts to ensure equal protection for LGBT Americans, voting against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; opposed efforts to ensure equal protection for impoverished and disabled Americans, fighting as Alabama Attorney General to stop poor school districts from getting the funding needed to teach their children; has lied about his civil rights record to portray himself as a civil rights champion and head off legitimate criticism; has repeatedly taken credit for work he did not do

These are serious accusations, but supported by facts
of which I have personal knowledge. In the questionnaire
Mr. Sessions filed to support his confirmation he listed
three voting rights cases and one school desegregation case
among the ten most significant cases he claims to have litigated
I categorically state that Mr. Sessions had no involvement
in any of these cases

Three decades ago, I testified before this Committee.
I have watched as his actions confirmed my worst
rather than best suspicions about his character
Mr. Sessions’ history of racial insensitivity
his disdain for civil rights and voting rights
his belated attempt to paint himself as a civil
rights hero by taking credit for others’ work
all demonstrate that he is unqualified to be
Attorney General of the United States

February 8, 2017, over the censure
of Coretta Scott King’s letter
Sessions confirmed as Attorney General
of the Department of Justice

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