Why Coretta Scott King’s 1986 Letter Opposing Jeff Sessions Matters
As President-Elect Trump’s Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions attends confirmation hearings and defends his abysmal civil rights record, we must heed the voices of the past that worked to prevent him from obtaining a federal position in the 1980s.
Coretta Scott King, civil rights advocate and wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a damning letter regarding Jeff Sessions in 1986, in attempt to block him from a federal judge position after he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.
The Washington Post released the letter this week, which was never entered into the record by former Judiciary Chair Strom Thurmond (who has his own long record of opposing civil rights). In the letter, King accused Sessions of using his US Attorney position to prevent elderly African Americans from voting in Alabama. King wrote:
Dear Senator Thurmond:
I write to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
I regret that a long-standing commitment prevents me from appearing in person to testify against this nominee. However, I have attached a copy of my statement opposing Mr. Sessions’ confirmation and I request that my statement as well as this letter be made a part of the hearing record.
I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions.
Coretta Scott King
King’s report recounts how Sessions, as a US Attorney for Southern Alabama, mounted voter fraud investigations in Perry County after absentee ballots proved to be a successful method of increasing the black vote. The three black men, including civil rights activist Albert Turner, Jr., he accused were ultimately acquitted.
Although King’s letter was never attended in the hearings, Sessions was ultimately prevented from becoming a federal judge due to testimony from Thomas Figures, a black assistant US attorney who worked closely with Sessions in Alabama and reported on insensitive, racist comments Sessions made in their office. Figures stated that Sessions once called him “boy” and told him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” Figures also noted that Sessions had made disparaging comments about black civil rights organizations, calling them “un-American.”
It is incredible that this man, deemed too racist in the 1980s is now up for the top cop job in the United States. It demonstrates Trump’s tone deafness on civil rights and on how the criminal justice system affects African Americans. The NAACP, the SPLC, and several other activist groups continue to advocate against Sessions’ confirmation, as well as Senator Cory Booker and Representative John Lewis, who both testified against Sessions this week.
While it is unlikely that Sessions will lose his confirmation, since Republicans have a majority to confirm him without Democrats’ vote, there is still time to call and voice your resistance. Check this list for contact information and tell your senator to vote no on Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, as Coretta taught us.
Photo Credits: Flickr