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Testimony of the Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes, III before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Against the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III for the Position of U.S. Attorney General, Washington D.C.
January 11, 2017
This weekend our nation will pause to celebrate the phenomenal life and prophetic legacy of the drum major for justice, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought to make America "One nation...with liberty and justice for all." On that historic summer afternoon in the symbolic shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. King was presented as "the moral leader of our nation" when he narrated the nightmare of oppression before defiantly declaring in the iconic speech, "I have a dream."
In the moral and prophetic tradition of Dr. King and so many others, from Fannie Lou Hamer to Barbara Jordan, who have been courageously eloquent and exemplary of the values of American citizenship challenging our nation to bridge the gap between principle and practice, I oppose the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III as the next Attorney General for the United States of America. Mr. Sessions is a throwback to the dark days when a former governor of the state of Alabama stood for racism and against justice as his "lips dripped with the words of interposition and nullification." Mr. Sessions has a terrible track record of standing on the wrong side of justice and embodying the principles of the "nightmare" Dr. King eloquently portrayed and lived and died opposing. The nomination of Mr. Sessions as our nation's "top cop" is a frightening proposition to communities of color who have been dehumanized by a policing system that declares Black lives don't matter, given his unapologetic and unfunny comments about the terrorist Ku Klux Klan and his fierce opposition to civil rights organizations, like the NAACP, that have stood for the best of American democracy. It is morally outrageous that Mr. Sessions, given his history of racial insensitivity would preside over a justice system that has often tilted the scales of justice to the disadvantage of the disadvantaged. Scriptures declare that we are to "speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Instead of defending the poor and needy, Mr. Sessions has used his positions of power to deride, attack, investigate and undermine the opportunities of democracy for communities of color and the historically underserved.
The powerful position of Attorney General of the United States of America is an entrustment to insure that systems and structures in this nation are fair and just for all Americans. Morally, power is used for the benefit of the powerless and vulnerable. The public service record of Mr. Sessions warns us that he is not fit to be a trustee of this pivotal position given his disposition toward the marginalized minorities and those who are outcast as "other."
Can Mr. Sessions be entrusted to protect voting rights, one of the supreme values of democracy? A background check that does not edit out facts reveals that Mr. Sessions led a targeted and invasive investigation of absentee voting ONLY in districts in Alabama where Black voter turnout had experienced an upsurge. No, he cannot be trusted to protect the precious franchise of voting. Mr. Sessions has opposed restoring the voting rights of felons who have paid for their crimes and served their time. Of course, ex-felon disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts African Americans. Mr. Sessions referred to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder as "good news...for the South." This statement was a wink and a nod to racists. He went on to call the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation", arguing that Section 5 (a provision that concerns mostly southern states with long histories of voting rights abuses) should be struck down. In light of recent revelations that our election process is being targeted for foreign influence we must also stand against internal threats. The voter suppressive tactics of Mr. Sessions represents such an internal threat. Lady Justice must not be cloaked in the garb of racism and white supremacy.
Mr. Sessions has been one of the most anti-immigration senators currently serving. He has voted against almost every immigration reform bill introduced in the past twenty years. Jesus said that a nation would be judged based on how it treated strangers or foreigners. He also proposed in 2015 a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison for illegal immigrants entering the country after being deported which could increase the federal prison population by as much as 30%. Mass incarceration, already a stain of injustice on the body politic of America, that has prompted a bipartisan call for prison reform, would be continued and expanded in a Sessions Justice Department. Morally, Mr. Sessions cannot be entrusted to preside over a just and fair immigration policy.
As a minister of the gospel, I recognize that people can change, however Mr. Sessions has done nothing in the 30 years since he was rejected for a federal judgeship in a bipartisan vote that reflects repentance and a change of heart. If he was deemed an inappropriate candidate for a federal judgeship he is even more unfit to serve as our nation's Chief Prosecutor. Before enjoying ceremonies and celebrations that commemorate the legacy of Dr. King as a Dreamer and the Drum Major for justice, I urge you to oppose his nightmare and reject the nomination of Jeff Sessions. The Justice Department must be presided over by one who heeds the words of the prophet Amos, who warned a nation to "Let justice roll down as waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream." Jeff Sessions, through his policies and statements, has been a metaphorical dam, often blocking the waters of justice and must not be the Attorney General of the United States of America.