On Friday, the New York Times reported that President-elect Donald Trump tapped Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general in his new administration. Sessions himself put out a statement boasting that Trump was “unbelievably impressed” with his “phenomenal record” as Alabama’s attorney general and U.S. attorney.
Sessions — the first senator to jump on board the Trump Train — has also spent more than two decades in Congress blocking immigration reform, trying to roll back marriage equality, holding up the confirmation of the Supreme Court’s first Latina Justice, repeatedly voting to gut funding for food stamps, and sponsoring bills to give the government more surveillance power.
Here are some things you should know about the man who may become the nation’s face of law enforcement:
A Republican Senate found him too racist for a judicial post.
No matter what Donald Trump said or did during his presidential campaign, Sessions stuck by his side. When he called Mexicans criminals and rapists, when he questioned a Latino judge’s ability to do his job, when he continued to question President Obama’s citizenship, when he insisted on the guilt of five black men whose murder convictions were long ago exonerated by DNA evidence, Sessions continued to support him as other GOP Senators condemned the remarks and distanced themselves from the nominee.
This behavior is not surprising when considering Session’s own track record of racially offensive remarks.
In 1986, President Reagan nominated Sessions for a judgeship on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. During his confirmation hearings, Joe Biden and other senators brought up reports that he called the NAACP an “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” organization that “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
He also allegedly called a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and cautioned him to be careful what he said to “white folks.” Sessions’ former colleagues also accused him of calling a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for working on voting rights cases.
While investigating the lynching of a black men by two Klansman in 1981, Sessions reportedly joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “okay” until he learned their members smoked marijuana.
Though Sessions maintains these accusations are “not fair” and “not accurate,” the Senate Judiciary Committee took the rare step of voting to reject Sessions’ nomination.
He believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
As attorney general, Sessions would be in charge of the administration’s drug enforcement priorities. While President Obama’s Justice Department has allowed states to legalize marijuana and reduce incarceration of low level drug offenders, Sessions would likely reverse that course.
At a congressional hearing earlier this year, he blasted the Obama Administration for failing to harshly enforce the nation’s drug laws, and said the government needs to spread the “knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about… and to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Sessions is also likely to reverse course on President Obama’s commutations of non-violence drug offenders sentenced to decades in prison during the height of the “war on drugs.” President Obama has reduced the prison sentences of hundreds of such people — citing a Supreme Court ruling that found the laws they were sentenced under racist and scientifically baseless. Sessions accused the president of “playing a dangerous game to advance his political ideology” and said the commutations were a “thumb in the eye of the law enforcement officers.”
“Rushing to release federal prisoners will have long-lasting, harmful consequences, particularly for our nation’s most vulnerable communities,” he wrote.
He favors mass deportations and believes immigrants “create culture problems.”
Before Donald Trump called for a militarized border wall and mass deportations, Sessions was pushing for them in Congress. The senator has said immigrants “create culture problems,” believes immigrants don’t have rights under the U.S. Constitution, opposes allowing undocumented immigrants to receive health care or a public school education, and has repeatedly done his best to derail immigration reform. He is opposed to any path to citizenship whatsoever for the roughly 11 million undocumented people in the United States.
When the Senate was crafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill, he introduced amendments that would have de-prioritized family reunification, required the government to individually interview all 11 million undocumented immigrants, and barred poor immigrants from applying for legal status. He dismissed the entire immigration reform effort as “ethnic politics.”
He led a voter fraud witch hunt targeting black civil rights workers.
During his decade as a federal prosecutor in Alabama — a state with an dark history of racism and voter suppression — Sessions embarked on a witch hunt targeting civil rights workers who were registering elderly black voters and helping them get absentee ballots.
He unsuccessfully charged three organizers, including a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with so many counts of voter fraud that they would have served 100 year sentences if convicted. Focusing only on counties where black voting participation had surged following the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Sessions interrogated dozens of older African American voters, yet only turned up 14 suspect ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in 1984. The “Marion Three” were acquitted.
When he was under consideration for a federal judgeship, Sessions admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation.” Last year, he told ThinkProgress that the Supreme Court was “probably correct” to gut the federal voting protections because “we’ve had so much improved voting rights.”
He wants to turn back the clock on marriage equality.
Sessions has staunchly opposed treating gay couples equally under the law. In speeches warning of the consequences of marriage equality, he painted a vision of a dystopic future where siblings could be considered married and where children are raised en masse by the state.
Sessions has also opposed efforts to expand hate crimes legislation to protect LGBT citizens. In a speech on the Senate floor in 2009, he said doing so “cheapen the civil rights movement.”
He went on to argue that there is no widespread discrimination or violence against LGBT people — though crimes against trans people have reached record levels and, in most of the country, people can be fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Gays and lesbians have not been denied basic access to things such as health or schooling or to the ballot box,” Sessions said. “They openly are able to advocate their positions today, which I think is certainly healthy, and have no difficulty in approaching government officials at whatever level.”
In his own Senate office, Sessions refused to adopt even a voluntary non-discrimination policy stating that sexual orientation is not a factor in the office’s employment decisions. Sixty-eight senators, including 23 Republicans, did adopt such a policy, leaving Sessions in the minority on this issue.
While a Republican-controlled Senate has rejected Sessions once before for a federal post, this time around he will enjoy the deference lawmakers usually give to one of their own in confirmation hearings. Already, several senators, even so-called moderates, have voiced their support for his confirmation.