Warren’s reading of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter shed light on Jeff Session’s prosecution of voting rights activists and highlighted the need for massive opposition against the future Attorney General, says attorney Kamau Franklin
JAISAL NOOR: First, Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, then New Mexico Senator, Tom Udall and now Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, they have all taken to the floor of the Senate to read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow to a Senate Panel urging them to block a Federal Judgeship for Jeff Sessions. That Panel, controlled by Republicans took the rare move in 1986 of ultimately blocking Jeff Sessions after former colleagues testified Sessions used racist language and after Sessions role in the Perry case, where he prosecuted voting rights activist for registering black voters in Alabama surfaced.
MAN: My own opinion is that the case was political. I actually don’t think Jeff Sessions ever came in with an ounce of evidence.
JAISAL NOOR: That same Senate Panel confirmed Jeff Sessions for Attorney General this year but not before blocking the release of Coretta Scott King’s letter to the public. It was obtained and published by the Washington Post on January 10th. Here’s the moment Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Republicans on Tuesday.
They are mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons and brothers.–
MAN: –Mr. President…
ELIZABETH WARREN: They are–
MAN: –Mr. President…
MAN 2: The Majority leader.
MAN: The Senator is impugning the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the Chair. Senator Warren said, “Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” I call the Senator to order under the Provisions of Rule 19.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. President?
MAN 2: The Senator from Massachusetts.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.
MAN 2: Is there objection?
ELIZABETH WARREN: I appeal the ruling…
MAN 2: Object… Objection is heard. The Senator will take her seat.
JAISAL NOOR: Warren later went on, on Facebook Live and finished reading the letter, receiving 7 million views.
Well, now joining us to discuss this is Kam Franklin. Kamau is an attorney and organizer around issues such as youth development, police misconduct, and creating sustainable urban communities. He’s also the political editor for the Atlanta Black Star. Thanks so much for joining us.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me.
JAISAL NOOR: So, this story has gone viral over the last 24 hours but a lot of context is missing in the main stream media’s reporting of this. So, I want to take this opportunity to kind of broaden the discussion here. And I wanted to start off with the substance of this letter. So, I wanted to read a bit of what Coretta Scott King wrote. She was a renowned activist in her own right, as well as being the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King. So, she couldn’t attend the 1986 Confirmation Hearing, so she wrote a 10-page letter to that Committee. And this is what she wrote, in her introduction to her letter. She wrote, “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a Federal Judgeship.” Now, what she is referring to in this letter is Jeff Sessions when he was US Attorney to Alabama, he prosecuted Albert and Evelyn Turner, two civil rights activists who were close to Dr. Martin Luther King and they were registering elderly black voters who felt intimidated, did not want to go to the poles, so they were helping them, you know, do mail-in ballots and other type of voting registration. And so, Jeff Sessions, you know, in the ’80’s he went after them. They faced a hundred years in prison. The Judge in the case, you know… They were found not guilty, but even the Judge said that the charges were extremely weak. So, Kamau, can you tell us a little bit about this case? And why is it still significant today?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, it’s very significant because it shows where Jeff Sessions head is, so what his ideological standing is. He’s really about trying to suppress the votes of black voters, elderly voters, voters that he’d think would typically vote within the… sort of for the Democratic Party. So, that’s his main sort of ideological outlook. And this voter fraud prosecution was for him at the time what he thought would be sort of the pin in his cap. He purposely went after Albert Turner who was a Lieutenant of Dr. Kings from the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, in an attempt to scare him and have him not only indicted but indicted and charged and convicted, hoping that this would send a chill throughout the larger black community in Alabama and the subsequent areas under Sessions’ jurisdiction at the time. So, as you stated, this case was shown to be… Basically the jurors came back and voted to not convict. This case was shown to be basically a fraud and most of the people who testified said that they were asking for help from these civil rights workers in filling out their ballots as opposed to the charge which was that they were actually directing these potential voters on what they should be and how they should be voting. So, it shows that where his mentalities, that when he comes into the office, that he will be far more concerned with cases that are supposedly around voter fraud, which any study that we’ve looked at has shown that this is really a miniscule issue around voting within the country. But to switch to issues about voting fraud as opposed to enforcing civil rights and voting rights statutes. So, I think that’s what we can look forward to in a Sessions Attorney Generalship and I think that’s why Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, was so passionate because she knew that Jeff Sessions had goals which had nothing to do with supporting civil rights legislation or protecting people who need protection from the State apparatus, in terms of enforcing civil rights.
JAISAL NOOR: And so this was one of the key reasons why Jeff Sessions was not confirmed by Republicans in 1986. Now, the media is focused more on the allegations of racism by Jeff Sessions and Jeff Sessions in the 2017 hearing, he denied those allegations. But what I think is absolutely pivotal and important for us to understand, is that… So, in 2017 he denied the allegations of racism but he actually defended the prosecution of the Turners. He said he did the right thing. So, while he says his attitude towards, you know… Well, he says, you know, they were wrong to call him racist, he says, he was right. So, you know, his defenders say, you know, this all happened 30 years ago. His attitudes have changed since then. He’s a different person now. But he still to this day defends that prosecution.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think for Sessions, this is his way of saying, particularly to his fellow Republicans, “You can count on me to continue with these types of prosecutions and looking at cases through this lens in the Justice Department.” But remember Jeff Sessions will have a tremendous amount of power over enacting and enforcing again civil rights laws throughout the country. And not only is he the Attorney General but under him is the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the FBI, so this is an immensely powerful domestic office that he’s about to take hold of. And I think he’s giving a clear wink to his fellow Republicans that Jeff Sessions will continue to try and go after voting fraud, as his main focus, and will no longer attempt to even enforce voting rights statutes. As we know, the Voting Rights Act was gutted, and I think Jeff Sessions will thoroughly stand aside and not do anything to help support people who are suffering from these voter ID laws which will continue to come down the pipe and now will not have the Attorney General’s Office bringing prosecutions against or bringing cases against these States. Instead, he’s going to stand aside and let these laws go through. And it will be up to individual citizens and organizations to bring these cases against some of these, not only voter fraud statutes, but voter ID statutes which are going to be popping up all over the place.
JAISAL NOOR: And it seems like such measures are going to be critical for Republicans in the coming years because we already, you know… No-one can deny the enormous backlash Trump has already had, you know, barely three weeks into his Administration. But I also wanted to ask you about the effectiveness of this type of protest. Because we know, I mean, the Democrats we can’t say they haven’t tried to stop him. But no, they don’t control the Senate. They don’t control that Committee. They don’t control the House. So, we know that, you know, their options are limited, and by shutting down Elizabeth Warren, more people will have heard and read that letter than, you know, potentially could have ever happened before. It’s over 7 million views of her Facebook Live video that she did after she was shut down by the Senate and then, you know, Bernie Sanders and Tom Udall of New Mexico, they also read portions of the letter in the Senate on Wednesday. But how do you evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy and what else could and should the Democrats and others be doing now, now that we know that despite the protests we know essentially that Sessions will likely be the next Attorney General?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I’d say strategically, you know, McConnell gave a gift to the Democrats, by trying to censor her and stop her from relaying the words from the letter. Obviously, I think, you know, she was on C-Span and that would have probably gotten a few thousand people at most would have heard her words. And his censoring made this a bigger issue which caused this to get out. I think, obviously it’s good strategy, it puts it out there that the Democratic Party is attempting to struggle on behalf of people who are going to be scared of having their voting rights cut back. I think the larger issue with the Democratic Party is that it still seems to be scared to go after Trump in a full frontal way and to go after the Republicans with as much strength as Republicans went after them. I think the Democrats will be happy if they win the mid-term elections, but it doesn’t mean that sort of the status of people who are in need of support or need the government to, let’s say to do more in terms of not only the Attorney General’s office but cutting back on some of these regulations, in terms of what’s happening under the Trump Administration with Wall Street regulations being deregulated, the tax breaks that the rich will get. I think the Democrats will unfortunately only tilt more right once they get into power. And so, it’s only going to be the people who take to the streets will do some of the amazing work that happened once this immigration ban happened a week or so ago, when they actually went out to airports. It’s going to take drastic actions to force the Democratic Party to tilt left and it’s going to take drastic actions to form new ideas and strategies and potentially a third-party strategy that pushes the Democrats either out of the way or so far left they’re unrecognizable as to who they are right now.
JAISAL NOOR: Alright, Kamau Franklin, thank you so much for joining us.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: And so, we’re going to post the entire ten-page letter by Coretta Scott King. It wasn’t entered into the record in 1986 by Senator Strom Thurman who chaired that Committee — the Senate Committee that ultimately blocked Jeff Sessions’ candidacy for Federal Judgeship. And it wasn’t made public in 2017 by the Republicans and now the Republicans shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren for trying to read it on the Senate floor. So, we’re going to link to that full letter. Thank you so much for watching The Real News Network.