Senator Kamala Harris has a message for Attorney General Jeff Sessions: California is not the Deep South, and her state’s bid to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants has absolutely nothing to do with the Civil War.
On Wednesday, Sessions likened California’s decision to defy the federal government’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants to acts of defiance by slave-owning Southerners against the federal government in the mid-19th century that ultimately led to the Civil War.
Speaking to California police and sheriffs, Sessions announced a lawsuit against the state for laws he says thwart federal agents’ efforts to apprehend undocumented immigrants. The Alabama-born former senator rather oddly compared sanctuary city laws in California to attempts by slave-holding states to “nullify” federal laws, and blasted state officials for their “radical, open borders agenda.”
“There is no nullification. There is no secession,” Sessions declared at a gathering of police and sheriffs. He also took aim at Oakland’s liberal Mayor Libby Schaaf, accusing her of actively aiding illegal immigrants last month by warning them of an impending sweep by federal deportation officers.
Harris (D-CA) later blasted Sessions’ Civil War rhetoric, and said he has no “credibility” to comment on anything having to do with America’s sordid racial legacy.
“As far as I’m concerned, Jeff Sessions should be advised, and I’ll advise him right now, that it’s a bad idea for him to start talking about anything to do with the history of slavery or Reconstruction or the Civil War in the United States,” Harris said on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” program. “His credibility is pretty much shot on those issues.”
Governor Jerry Brown (D) at a press conference Wednesday after Sessions’ speech also condemned the lawsuit, calling it “an act of war,” against California and accused Sessions of “initiating a reign of terror” against immigrants there.
Harris echoed those views, saying they are a throwback to a long gone and best forgotten past. “I think that these folks are really mired in rolling back the clock in time, and that’s not going to happen. California represents the future, and they don’t like it,” she said adding that “Jeff Sessions has clearly put a target on the back of California, and California’s going to fight.”
Sessions, 71, was considered one of the U.S. Senate’s most stalwart conservatives long before being tapped last year by President Donald Trump to be his top federal prosecutor. Before assuming his current position, Sessions earned notoriety for arch conservative — many have said racist — views.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 voted down his nomination by Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship, amid allegations that he had called a black law colleague “boy” and admonished him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” Another attorney interviewed by the committee at the time said Sessions told him he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
The Alabama-born attorney general’s very name — Jefferson Beauregard Sessions — invokes two of the most revered heroes of the confederacy. He was named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the secessionist Confederate States of America and P.G.T. Beauregard, the southern general who led the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina launching the bloody, four-year-longwar between the North and the South.