Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was confirmed as the next Attorney General of the United States on Wednesday, following a final Senate vote. That means a man with white supremacist ties, a racist and homophobic legislative record, and a history of opposing voting rights is now the top law enforcement officer in the country.
The final vote was 52 senators in favor of confirming Sessions and 47 against, largely along party lines. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only Democrat to vote yes.
Sessions, like newly-minted Secretary of Education Betty DeVos, faced extreme opposition from civil rights organizations, lawmakers, and constituents nationwide. Public outcry began soon after his nomination in November.
When Sessions was up for a federal judgeship in 1986, Coretta Scott King — the late widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. — begged the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against his appointment. Senators on both sides of the aisle ultimately considered him too racist for the job, based on his disparaging comments about African Americans. He reportedly said the NAACP and ACLU were “Communist-inspired” and “un-American,” called one of his black staff members “boy,” and joked that the worst thing about the KKK was its marijuana-smoking members.
In 2007, he argued that immigrants “create culture problems,” steal jobs from Americans, and that their “numbers cannot be too great.”
During his nomination hearing to become Attorney General, Sessions was also caught lying about his work on civil rights cases as a prosecutor; he falsely claimed to have personally litigated certain cases involving desegregation and voting rights. In fact, he waged a legal battle against civil rights activists who were attempting to register black voters. Sessions prosecuted them for voter fraud in the 1980s.
Sessions also once employed Stephen Miller, a White House senior adviser with ties to white nationalism, as his communications director. According to Sessions’ former press secretary, Andrew Logan, the senator “relied very heavily” on Miller, one of the architects of the Muslim ban. “He sort of necessarily became involved in all of the policy areas as well,” Logan said.
Sessions is also adamantly opposed to LGBTQ equality. He once argued that members of those communities don’t experience enough discrimination to warrant hate crime protections.
“[When] you have a universal, unequivocal, unbroken, consistent decision by every State and virtually every nation, until the last few years, that a marriage should be between a man and a woman,” he said in 2004. “I think anybody ought to be reluctant to up and change it; to come along and say, well, you know, everybody has been doing this for 2000 years, but we think we ought to try something different.”
When same-sex marriage became law of the land in 2015, he said, “The marriage case goes beyond what I consider to be the realm of reality.”
In spite of Sessions’ congressional and criminal justice record, his status as a veteran senator always made it unlikely that his colleagues would vote against him.
Given his well-documented history of his legal and policy work, it is possible to predict what Sessions and the Department of Justice will do next.
Throughout Trump’s campaign, Sessions repeatedly agreed that travel from Muslim countries should be restricted. Past comments, paired with his cozy relationship with Miller, make it all but certain that Sessions’ DOJ will aggressively defend the ban’s legality in court.
Meanwhile, Republicans’ voter purges and racial gerrymandering will probably go unchecked by the DOJ. LGBTQ protections are also in jeopardy.
Sessions is a staunch advocate of tough-on-crime policies that resulted in mass incarceration, so Obama-era criminal justice reforms are on the chopping block. His financial stakes in Big Oil means the fossil fuel industry — and environmental crimes — could flourish with impunity.
But none of this was enough to stop 52 members of the Senate — including one Democrat — from voting for his confirmation.