Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during Wednesday’s press conference that he hopes that Coretta Scott King would regret opposing now-Sen Jeff Session’s (R-AL) nomination to a federal judgeship in the 1980s if she were still alive.
“Like Arlen Specter — the late Arlen Specter — I can only hope if she was still with us today, that after getting to know him and getting to see his commitment to voting and civil rights that she would share the same view that Senator Specter did, where he said that although I voted against him, from getting to know the man that he is now, I regret that vote. And I think — I hope —that if she were still with us today she would share that sentiment,” said Spicer.
In 1986, King wrote a 10-page letter to then-Senate Judiciary Committee chair Strom Thurmond (R-SC) against Sessions’ nomination, citing particularly his use of his position as attorney general of Alabama to suppress black votes.
Sessions is now a floor vote away from becoming President Trump’s attorney general, in power over the entire country.
Thurmond never entered the letter into the official record, and it resurfaced last month. On Wednesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempted to read the letter on the Senate floor, only to be silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “[impugning] the motives and conduct” of a fellow Senator.
At the press conference, a reporter asked what Spicer’s response was to King’s words, specifically that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve.”
That’s when Spicer, instead of responding to Coretta Scott King’s actual words, said that he hoped that King would, if still alive, have changed her mind after getting to know Sessions a little better.
“The senator has been one that has stood up for voting rights, he prosecuted the Klan, he stood up for Coretta Scott King getting the gold medal, he has been a tireless advocate of voting and civil rights throughout his career,” said Spicer. “And I would just hope that if she were with us today that she would share the sentiments of former Senator Specter.”
Specter (R-PA), in 2009, said that after getting to know Sessions as a Senator that he regretted voting no on his bid for the judgeship, a vote that effectively killed Sessions’ 1986 nomination.
Spicer defends Sessions against King’s 1986 charges by citing his record since then, calling his record on civil and voting rights “outstanding.”
In reality, Sen. Sessions has repeatedly voted against voting rights and civil rights measures.
In 2002, Sessions spoke out against a measure that would have restored voting rights to felons after they complete their sentence — a measure sponsored by Specter himself. The measure was voted down.
And while Sessions did vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, in 2015 he said that he thought the Supreme Court was right to gut it.
“I think we’ve had so much improved voting rights in Alabama that the Court was probably correct [to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act],” Sessions told ThinkProgress at a commemoration event in Selma.
Since the VRA was gutted, many Republican legislatures have pushed through measures that courts are finding were explicitly designed to suppress black votes. Now, as attorney general, Sessions will be in charge of upholding the act.
Sessions is, in general, also staunch opponent of most criminal justice reform measures — measures that disproportionately affect America’s black community. In his hearing, Sessions indicated he would abandon Obama administration reforms on sentencing and police oversight. He’s an outspoken supporter of civil asset forfeiture. At a hearing in 2015, he said that 95 percent of civil asset forfeiture cases involve those who “have done nothing in their lives but sell dope.”
This view is connected to Session’s retrograde drug war views. In 2016, Sessions said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Decriminalizing marijuana has been a goal of criminal justice advocates, because young black men are disproportionately incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes involving the drug — even as more and more states move toward legalization.
In 1986, King agreed, writing:
“I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.”
King is no longer with us to react to Sen. Sessions being nominated to one of the highest legal positions in the country. But based on her original words, and on Sessions’ record since, Spicer implying that she would have changed her mind is at best unfounded. At worst, it’s a cynical attempt to deputize the words of one of the nation’s staunchest civil rights advocates in support of a man she once decried as dangerously racist.