Following the contentious confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as President Donald Trump’s attorney general, many fear he will roll back the clock on civil rights for a number of marginalized groups across the country.
Many civil rights advocates and organizations have pointed to 30-year-old allegations of racism that ultimately prevented Sessions’ nomination to become a U.S. federal judge in 1986. While civil rights advocates point to Sessions’ career as a U.S. attorney as evidence of his anti–civil rights stances, the Trump administration has lobbied Sessions as a staunch advocate of civil rights.
For instance, Sessions’ supporters have cited his work in the prosecution of a Ku Klux Klan member in the lynching case of a black man in Alabama 35 years ago. While filling out his questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, Sessions cited this as one of his most important cases. An in-depth look at how the case proceeded from The Atlantic reveals that Sessions’ role was much smaller than projected.
The newly minted attorney general’s allies also point to his vote in 2006 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. However, on the same day as the Senate vote, Sessions voiced concerns with the preclearance mandate of the VRA that required states to pre-clear any change in voting qualifications or prerequisites to voting. Sessions said the mandate was no longer required because there had been no recent evidence of state or local officials attempting to suppress votes.
When part of the VRA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, Sessions praised the decision, calling it “a good day for the South.” Without the protection of the VRA, states across the South and in other parts of the country implemented new restrictions in the form of voter identification laws — laws that have been shown to disproportionately affect communities of color, poor people and the elderly — making the 2016 presidential election the first election without the full protection of the VRA since it was enacted in 1965.
Those against Sessions as attorney general also cite his extensive record opposing legislation that would help marginalized groups. In 2006, Sessions voted “yes” on a constitutional ban opposing same-sex marriage and also opposed repealing the policy that forbids gay men and lesbians to openly serve in the military — “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In 2013, Sessions voted “no” to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and to the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009.
Sessions also has a history of making statements against Muslim immigration, often depicting Muslims as a threat to the security of the U.S. He was one of the first people to defend Trump’s Muslim ban when it was first proposed.
As Sessions took the oath of office Feb. 9, his statements suggested a stance that is tough on crime, saying the current rise in crime “is a dangerous, permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.” While 2015 saw a slight increase in the violent crime rates from 2014, it is still considerably lower than the crime in the early 2000s and early 1900s.