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Alabama NAACP President Bernard Simelton: The Senate blocked a federal judgeship for Jeff Sessions in 1986 and they should block him from being Trump’s Attorney General
JAISAL NOOR: On Monday the NAACP is holding another day of action at the Alabama offices of Senator Jeff Sessions. To protest the nominee for US Attorney General, ahead of his confirmation hearings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. BERNARD SIMELTON: I don’t think his approval confirmation is going to go as smoothly as he thinks. I think there are a lot of people, Senators that are questioned. They may not be speaking out saying that they’re not concerned about him, but I think there are enough that will somewhat put a wrinkle in the process. JAISAL NOOR: Sessions is one of seven confirmations scheduled for this week. Including five on Wednesday alone. Which has prompted the head of the Office of Government Ethics to express, “Great concern that Trump and the GOP are rushing through Cabinet confirmations, without the adequate time to complete ethics reviews.” We spoke to NAACP Alabama President, Bernard Simelton, one of six civil rights leaders arrested for a sit-in at Jeff Sessions’ office last week, on January 2nd. Simelton says the NAACP still has concerns about the accusations of racism leveled at Sessions, after he was nominated to a Federal Judgeship, by Ronald Reagan in 1986. The accusations prompted a Republican controlled senate panel to reject his confirmation. BERNARD SIMELTON: Some of the comments that he made back then was calling one of his assistant attorneys, “boy.” That, especially during that time, even as of today, that’s known as a racial term. Especially, in a professional setting like that, you can’t call another… He wasn’t his co-equal, but this individual was Thomas Figures, a well-educated person. He worked for Senator Sessions, so Senator Sessions thought that he, you know, had that kind of power over him where he could call him “boy”. And so, that’s the first reason. The second reason is, you know, he referred to the NAACP as being un-American, and because of the things that we did. Because we were fighting for voting rights, for everyone, because we were fighting about the Board of Education, because we were fighting the injustices that we saw that were inflicted on people here in the State of Alabama, as well as, across the nation. He wanted to call the NAACP un-American. And then when we move on to later in his career, up until, you know, recent years, since he has been elected Senator. And because of his opposition that he stated on things like immigration. His opposition to the Voting Rights Act, expansion of the Voting Rights Act, you know, signaled to us that he still has not changed. He has changed his language, but his deep down feelings have not changed. And he just is not suitable to be the Attorney General for the United States. JAISAL NOOR: Along with the accusations of racism, the 1986 hearing also highlighted how Sessions accused civil rights activists of voting fraud, in a case where the defendants were found not guilty. Here’s a news report from the time. NEWSCASTER: His biggest problem came in a case he prosecuted and lost — a vote fraud case involving black civil rights leaders in Perry County, Alabama. Defendants in the Perry County case were Albert and Evelyn Turner, political and civil rights leaders for more than 20 years. Albert was an aid to Martin Luther King. Their scrapbook has all the marches. EVELYN TURNER: This is bloody Sunday. Albert can see… that’s him right there. BERNARD SIMELTON: Albert Turner guided the mules at Dr. King’s funeral. The Federal government charged the Turners with doctoring absentee ballots, vote fraud and mail fraud. ALBERT TURNER: My own opinion is that the case was political. I actually don’t think that Jeff Sessions came in with an ounce of evidence. BERNARD SIMELTON: He rounded up some individuals who the Turners had helped, and somehow he convinced them to say that the Turners, you know, marked their ballot incorrectly. Or that they changed their ballots, what they thought they had, and I think there were maybe five or six. You know, and to try and prosecute someone… and they faced up to, you know, I think it were a 100 and some years in prison for what they were charged with, Federal charges. I mean that’s absolutely ridiculous. When all they were doing was trying to help people register to vote, and to cast their vote, absentee ballots, just like so many others had done. And whites at that time were doing the same thing. JAISAL NOOR: This is Gerald Hebert, a former colleague of Jeff Sessions, who provided key testimony in the 1986 hearing. GERALD HEBERT: And what I think what that case really shows, is that you’re really trying Jeff Sessions, lacking the prosecutorial discretion and judgement that really needs to be made by a law enforcement officer at the head of the Justice Department. You have a lot of discretion about what cases to bring and what cases not to bring. And that case should have never been brought. The Federal Judge who handled it, who was a Reagan appointee, made it clear he didn’t think that what the defendants were charged with was a crime, and that it was probably First Amendment protected activity. But he let the case go to trial and a jury anyway. And of course, they were acquitted. So, what that case did though, however, was it really sent a chilling effect into the black community in Alabama. That if you really engaged in voting activism to help your neighbors vote, and maybe in places where whites were so long and were trying to hold on to political power, that you could really face Federal prosecution. And you know, when you face a Federal prosecution it takes a lot of energy away. It takes a lot of time away. These defendants were not young. They were not in their late teens and early 20’s. They were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, and that sends a message across the State. BERNARD SIMELTON: If he had been successful, this would have deterred organizations like the NAACP from furthering our efforts to vote… I mean, to register people to vote. And to help, you know, people, you know, do their civic duty. And so that would have a tremendous weight on his part, to depress the particular African-American vote. JAISAL NOOR: I want to ask you about an article I read from a civil rights attorney, who’s based in Georgia, sort of critical of the protests against Jeff Sessions. And he’s saying… his point was, you know, Jeff Sessions needs to be opposed, but he said, “The NAACP is bringing a knife to a gun fight.” Because you know, like, he compared what happened in Alabama to what’s happening in North Carolina. Because North Carolina — the Moral Mondays — hundreds of people were coming out and protesting and getting arrested and he basically… His point was, you know, the NAACP in Alabama didn’t have that critical mass of people to really make an impact, as far as opposing Jeff Sessions. I wanted to get your response to that as well. BERNARD SIMELTON: I mean, I haven’t seen the article, and I don’t know exactly what he says, but I do differ that we didn’t have the impact. I think what the… the numbers that we had across the State and those six that were arrested, you know, and I think even before then, the impact was already felt. Because, you know, while we were still sitting in his office, you know, there were people calling. CNN was calling, MSNBC was calling, several people were calling to, you know, ask what was going on and you were able to tell them. In addition to that, after the arrest, we put an online… actually another online petition. And within a 24-hour period, you know, from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, we had over 200,000 signatures of people across the country, you know, opposing Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General. So, I don’t agree with the, you know… again, I haven’t seen the article, but I don’t agree with his assessment of our impact. You know? And certainly, you know, there is strength in numbers. But I think, you know, we had the right number of people at that time to bring media attention to it, and I think we certainly did that. JAISAL NOOR: Stay tuned to The Real News.com for ongoing coverage of the confirmation of Attorney General, Jeff Sessions and all of Trump’s Cabinet picks. For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor. ————————- END