Conservatives have chosen a strange leader to spearhead their charge against Judge Sotomayor — Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). With only days remaining until Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings begin, Sessions has focused his attacks on Sotomayor’s past service on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), a leading civil rights organization that Sessions calls “extreme” because it “brought several race discrimination lawsuits for minorities” while Sotomayor sat on its board.
Setting aside the facial absurdity of this attack — race discrimination is illegal, a fact which apparently also bothers Sessions — it’s puzzling that conservatives would let Sessions be their public face of opposition against the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court, especially in light of his own checkered history with race.
In 1986, Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench was rejected by the Senate because of Sessions’ deep-seated hostility to the very notion of civil rights. In comments that are strikingly similar to his recent attacks on PRLDEF, Sessions attacked the NAACP as an “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” organization that “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” When confronted about these statements at his confirmation hearing, Sessions reluctantly conceded that they “probably w[ere] wrong.” Watch:
Nor were Sessions’ attacks on the NAACP an isolated incident. As a federal prosecutor, Sessions conducted a tenuous criminal investigation into voting rights advocates that registered African-Americans to vote, an investigation that culminated in an unsuccessful prosecution against a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Additionally, an African-American attorney who once worked for Sessions testified at his hearings that Sessions said that he “used to think [the KKK] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” The same attorney also recalled being called “boy” by Sessions and being told to “be careful what you say to white folks” after Sessions overheard him chastising a white secretary.
So Sessions’ attacks on PRLDEF fit into a much larger pattern; they are just the most recent phase of Sessions’ crusade against civil rights and the organizations that promote them. America has changed a lot since 1986, but Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III remains exactly the same.