News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Déjà vu for Senator Sessions

During the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Senator Jeff Sessions made several chastising comments to the judge regarding her widely noted "wise Latina" comment from 2001, suggesting that she would be prejudiced against whites in her judicial decisions. This line of questioning seemed particularly disingenuous in light of Senator Sessions personal history. Seems the Senator himself was once at the receiving end of similar scrutiny for comments which some deemed "racially insensitive" during his own confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship. What follows is an excerpt from a 2002 article from Sarah Wildman in the New Republic.

Another damaging witness--a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures--testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn't see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks." Figures echoed Hebert's claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American." Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.

During his nomination hearings, Sessions was opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way, and other civil rights groups. Senator Denton clung peevishly to his favored nominee until the bitter end, calling Sessions a "victim of a political conspiracy." The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee finally voted ten to eight against sending Sessions to the Senate floor. The decisive vote was cast by the other senator from Alabama, Democrat Howell Heflin, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, who said, "[M]y duty to the justice system is greater than any duty to any one individual."

Now sitting on the other side of the table, Senator Sessions might have felt empathy for someone accused of a similar alleged transgression. Instead, he chose to grill Judge Sotomayor, lecturing her as if his own record on the subject was clean. And why not? We all know empathy is not part of the GOP lexicon.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

No comments: