The U.S. Senate voted along party lines to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to the position of attorney general, with only one Democrat, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, crossing the aisle to vote for Sessions. The confirmation places one of Trump’s earliest supporters in one of the most powerful and prominent positions in the United States government.
Sessions’s nomination was controversial because the Alabama senator had been denied a federal judgeship in 1986 over allegations that he had called civil rights groups “un-American” for pushing integration and made racist remarks to a black subbordinate. Civil-rights groups, feminist groups, and LGBT-rights groups were all alarmed by the nomination, with Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, saying it would be “unimaginable” for Sessions to “be the chief law-enforcement officer for the nation’s civil-rights laws.”
Expecting a fight over Sessions’s past, the Trump administration produced a resume of his supposed civil-rights accomplishments, including early opposition to segregation, a non-existent record of fighting for school integration and voting rights, and an exaggerated account of his role in the prosecution of a Ku Klux Klansman convicted of murder and the subsequent civil suit bankrupting that faction of the KKK.
Sessions’s past was dragged into the spotlight again on Tuesday night during the debate over his nomination, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully used the Senate rules against disparaging colleagues on the floor to silence Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who was reading from a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King to oppose then-U.S. Attorney Sessions’s nomination to the federal bench.
King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., had written that Sessions had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters” when he pursued a failed prosecution of civil-rights activists on charges of voter fraud. “For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship,” King wrote.
After demonstrating consistent loyalty to Donald Trump, including an early defense of Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from the United States, Sessions has been rewarded with the position of attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government.