Sessions’ Testimony “A Whole Lot of Nothing”

Press Release

Washington, D.C., January 10 – Sen. Jeff Sessions’ commitment to upholding the rights and freedoms of Americans as Attorney General remains in doubt following his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee today, according to Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron who issued the following statement:

“What we heard from Sen. Sessions at his hearing today was frankly a whole lot of nothing.  We heard plenty of pat assurances that he’ll follow the law, but none of the passion for civil rights,  intellectual firepower or commitment to the cause of justice that an Attorney General should possess. Sen. Sessions was certainly much better rehearsed than he was at his hearing for a federal judgeship thirty years ago.  But he did nothing to inspire confidence in his ability to be the lawyer for the American people.”

On key issues of abortion, marriage equality, and the U.S. prohibition against torture, Sen. Sessions offered pledges to uphold the law, but failed to show any investment in the principles at stake.  He evaded direct answers to questions about whether Americans could again be interned as Japanese-Americans were in World War II; whether he supported the use of an especially inhumane punishment in Alabama prisons known as the “hitching post;” and what should be the fate of 800,000 children of immigrants, the “DREAMers” President-elect Trump threatens to deport.

On other points, his answers were more specific but no more reassuring. Asked whether there ought to be a religious test for immigrants entering the U.S., Sen. Sessions said no, but qualified his answers to leave room for a wide range of subjective exceptions. He claimed that the Voter ID laws widely understood to discriminate against African-American voters were probably acceptable, and appeared to double down on his past claims that the Voting Rights Act was “intrusive” legislation.  

His response to a probing line of questions about his participation in civil rights cases was especially troubling.  Pressed by Sen. Al Franken to explain his involvement in cases he listed on his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire as among the most important he had personally handled, Sen. Sessions let slip that he had never met an attorney who had handled one of those cases.

Sen. Sessions also failed to inspire confidence that he would be an effective check on the myriad conflicts of interest likely to plague President-elect Trump.  In response to repeated questioning about whether he would be willing to appoint a special counsel to investigate such conflicts, or whether the President-elect should be subject to the Emoluments Clause, Sen. Sessions offered only qualified answers or claimed insufficient familiarity with the circumstances. He showed no demonstrable concern about the risk of conflicts, or commitment to independence from the president-elect.

Alliance for Justice remains deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and clarity in Sen. Sessions’ responses to many legitimate questions about his positions, past and present.