LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Too racist in 1986 but OK in 2017

On Feb. 7, [U.S.] Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D-Mass.] was silenced during a Senate Judiciary [Committee] hearing for Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be attorney general of the USA. She was reading a letter from Coretta King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King. The letter was written and submitted to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chair of the Judiciary Committee in 1986 when Sessions was being considered for a federal judgeship in Alabama. It was read by Mrs. King during the Judiciary Committee’s hearing. It was thought to have been relevant in the Senate’s failure to approve Sessions’ bid for the position.

Thurmond never entered the letter into the congressional record, and its contents remained largely unknown. Sen. Warren was silenced, censored and cannot speak during the final hearings on Sessions. Sen. McConnell did this by invoking the seldom-used Senate Rule XIX. McConnell defended his ruling, saying that she had “impugned” a fellow senator by continuing to read “after she had been warned.”

Senate Rule XIX, section 2.1, states, “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming to a Senator.” Notice the word “impute” in the rule, which means … “to say someone is guilty (of something).” Sen. McConnell’s word “impugn” means “to oppose or attack as false or lacking integrity”; “to criticize a person’s character by suggesting someone is not honest and should not be trusted.”

The letter was not Sen. Warren’s words, but words of a private American citizen, whose opposition to Sessions was read during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in 1986. So much for moving forward with bipartisanship. It is also telling that Senate Rule XIX was not invoked in 2015 when Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused McConnell of lying “over and over again.” Nor was it invoked in 2016 when Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas called the Senate leadership of Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “a cancerous leadership.” So much for equal rights for women, even women senators, and even when she is within procedural rules!

By the time this is published, Sessions will likely be the attorney general of the USA. It is difficult to square this with the fact that in 1986, also in a Republican-controlled Senate, his nomination to fill a federal judge position failed because he was deemed “too racist.”

The U.S. attorney general is the people’s lawyer; his responsibilities include representing the people’s interest in any case where full rights under constitutional law (which includes the Amendments) are being thwarted, infringed upon or otherwise denied. Jeff Sessions has tried to convince his fellow senators that his views have changed since1986. However, his words and actions give the lie to that.

He voted against the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. He voted against the most recent version of the Paycheck Fairness Act. And those are just his votes against American women!

In 2013, SCOTUS failed to uphold a key provision of the Voting Rights Act which required states with a long history of voter discrimination to get congressional approval before enacting changes to their voting laws. Sessions cheered the gutting, calling it “good news … for the South.”

Patricia Frey

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