Jeff Sessions Embodies the Old South
Kamau Franklin, a longtime activist and civil rights attorney and author joins us to discuss day two of the confirmation hearings of Jeff Sessions
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
We’re coming to you live to cover day two of the confirmation hearings of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks, including Alabama Senator, Jeff Sessions. He’s a man a Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee found too racist to be a Federal Judge in 1986 and he’s the same person Trump has tapped to be the next Attorney General.
Well, now joining us to discuss Senator Sessions is Kamau Franklin. He’s an attorney and organizer around issues such as youth development, police misconduct and he’s a political Editor of the Atlanta Black Star, and he’s been writing about Senator Jeff Sessions. Thanks so much for joining us.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.
JAISAL NOOR: So, we have a lot of ground to cover here but I want to focus on how Republicans and much of the media has focused on reinventing Jeff Sessions’ history of bigoted and racist remarks. His record as U.S. Attorney to Alabama and U.S. Senator, it’s the same history that surfaced in 1986 where Republicans blocked him from being a Federal Judge.
You know, one tweet I read, for example, said, “Black Lives Matter protests erupt during confirmation hearing of Sessions, the guy who successfully prosecuted KKK, desegregated schools.” Others have highlighted his work to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks. How do you respond to this? I mean, you can’t call it anything else but a re-writing of history that’s being done by the Republicans, the media. And we’re going to play some clips of Democrats that have challenged this but people have been disappointed at the way the Democrats have gone about this. I wanted to get your response.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Okay. I think what’s happening is that we are entering this period of normalizing not only Trump, particularly from the mainstream media, although obviously Trump does everything he can to fight against that, and his picks for cabinet positions. And I think what you have happening with the Democratic Party is that they’re falling in line. So, as opposed to the Republicans, when Barack Obama or any Democratic President over the last 20 or 25 years happened to get elected to office, where they put up a resistance, they have become the actual opposition party. You have Democrats, for the most part, deciding that they’ve been a colleague of Jeff Sessions for decades and that they don’t want to give him a rough time. And that they’re setting up what they think are some limits to what he may do because of some of his answers and try to hem him in around whether or not he will be independent from Trump, his positions on Twitter, but really those things are set-ups to make this an easy confirmation process. What you have are people in the back in the crowd who are actually doing the hard work, in that they’re actually trying to disrupt, protest, bring out the things that Jeff Session has been responsible for.
JAISAL NOOR: And please continue. We’re playing some of those protests in the background.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: So, yeah, some of the things that Jeff Sessions has been responsible for over the years, these folks on the outside are the ones trying to bring it up. And, you know, I think some of the Democrats have attempted to ask some hard questions. But, for the most part, I think it’s been obvious that they think this is a done deal because they don’t have the votes. But, as opposed to showing that they are an oppositional force to what’s about to happen on January 20th, they are capitulating and capitulating mighty early.
JAISAL NOOR: I wanted to play a clip of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker who gave some passionate testimony against Jeff Sessions, and he actually became the first Senator to testify against a colleague in such a way. Let’s play that clip.
CORY BOOKER: If confirmed, Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women. But his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans. But his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend voting rights. But his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity. But the record indicates that he won’t. His record indicates that as Attorney General he would object to the growing national bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform. His record indicates that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts towards bringing justice to the justice system — and people on both sides of the aisle who readily admit that the justice system as it stands now is biased against the poor, against the drug addicted, against mentally ill, and against people of color.
(end video clip)
JAISAL NOOR: So, that’s some of the testimony given by Cory Booker, the Senator from New Jersey. What’s your response?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, I think that those are good things that Cory Booker laid out. I think, obviously, John Lewis later also laid out some really important things about his history. But, look, those things are happening from the testimonial side and I think, again, that the Democrats on the Judicial Committee are the ones that actually have the opportunity to directly challenge Jeff Sessions in his face, to put him on the spot and instead of, again, trying to limit what they think is his ability to enact legislation, or enact protocols through the Justice Department and to be independent.
What they should have done, I think, is try to expose as much of this material as possible and to make him respond to it. But they did not do that. And I think, again, having someone come on and testify — which is great because I think it’s an opportunity to get things out there, but it’s not exactly putting Jeff Sessions on the hot seat. I think when the opportunity arose for the Democrats to do that, they failed to do it. And I think it’s going to be something that hurts all of us in the future if the Democrats continue to capitulate during this time period. And I hope that either the news media, or these revelations that aren’t necessarily well-documented yet but still coming out, do the job for them. I think the Democrats have to show themselves to be an oppositional force and right now they’re choosing not to do that.
JAISAL NOOR: And I wanted to go back to the issue of the reinvention of Jeff Sessions’ legacy, as far as civil rights. Something that his supporters won’t mention is that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, wrote a nine-page letter to the 1986 panel that was vetting Sessions to be a Federal Judge. I’m going to read part of it.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Uh huh.
JAISAL NOOR: “Anyone who has used the power of his office as U.S. Attorney to intimidate and chill the exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our Court. 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.” That’s Coretta Scott King, writing to the Senate in 1986. And so, the Senate had apparently… the head of the Judiciary Committee had apparently blocked this letter from being released because he has that power, but The Washington Post obtained it yesterday and published it.
I want to talk more about the importance of Jeff Sessions’ history in Alabama on the case of voter suppression which we discussed on the show yesterday, that he actually, as the U.S. Attorney to Alabama, he prosecuted veteran voting rights activists and charged them with voting rights fraud — which was unsubstantiated, they were found not guilty and they faced up to 100 years in prison — and the fact this happened in Alabama, one of the most racist and conservative States in the country.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Uh huh, in fact, it’s a prosecution that Jeff Sessions still defends to this day.
JAISAL NOOR: Uh huh.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Even though, as you said, all charges were either dropped immediately by the Judge in this case, or, as the rest of the charges that remained, the jury came back and acquitted on all those charges. And so, it was obvious that Jeff Sessions’ attempt then, as his attempt will be once he becomes the Attorney General, is to put a chilling effect on activists and organizers who are trying to increase voter participation, particularly in the black community and immigrant communities at this particular stage, that his role will be to try to limit that as much as possible through the power that he has at the AG’s office.
I think we’re going to see Jeff Sessions switch from someone who is trying to extend voting rights to someone who’s more concerned with the act of so-called voter fraud, which is a particular non-issue from all studies that have taken place, but something that the right-wing, particularly Republicans, push as a way to decrease the amount of people participating in American democracy.
JAISAL NOOR: And with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court just a few years ago, can you talk a little bit about why it’s important to have an Attorney General that’s going to defend the right to vote in this country?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Sure, because the Attorney General, as the chief judicial officer of the land, has the right to go in and take on individual cases and bring individual prosecutions against counties, cities, that are going against the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
So, when you have someone in that office who decides not to use that power to increase voter participation or to make sure that voters, particularly in an area in the south, don’t feel intimidated and don’t feel like their opportunities to vote are being eliminated, you have somebody who doesn’t take that position that their role is to make sure that voting takes place, then you have a dangerous position where the States have more control and more rights to go in and to change voting laws without any challenges from the Justice Department.
And I think Jeff Sessions will stand aside and let the States enact whatever laws that they want to, and if the courts themselves, through individual challenges, don’t do anything about this, the Justice Department will not enter the picture. And I think that’s going to be a really big sea change that’s going to happen, again, starting January 20th.
JAISAL NOOR: And Senator Sessions has been opposed to criminal justice reform and, I think, I wanted to ask you about that. But first, you know, many States, a growing number of States in this country have legalized marijuana and it still remains illegal on a federal level. With Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, should people be concerned about what might happen in those States? Could the Feds come in and shut down dispensaries, start arresting people with Federal charges?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Most definitely. I think that places like Colorado and other places that have passed medical marijuana usage are really going to be entering a time period of trepidation because they don’t know necessarily what the Attorney General is going to do. If we follow sort of the facts and the history, it mean that he will intervene in some way and try to squash and challenge these industries, these growing industries which have been legalized on a state level. So, there are banking laws that the Attorney General can force, there’s other sort of prosecutions on obviously selling, buying what would be considered, federally-speaking, illegal drugs. And the power lays in Jeff Sessions’ hands to say, “We want to now go after these laws.”
I think your prior two Attorney Generals, Mr. Holder and Miss Lynch, purposely took a hands-off approach and said, “Let these particular States sort of work this out. We won’t enforce these laws. This has been passed by resolutions and also been passed by the voting within the state level and these provisions passed and that means that the majority of the folks in the states wanted them to happen.” And so, the Attorney Generals of the past have let those things go.
But that may not be Jeff Sessions’ way. In fact, we have indications, based on his past history, that he’s going to try to shut this down and that he will be using the power of the federal government to potentially arrest and bring people up on charges for not only selling and buying, again, but for bank fraud and other actions like that.
JAISAL NOOR: And we know the rise of Donald Trump has empowered white supremacists and racists around the country. Something that President Obama did, as you write in your recent article in the Atlanta Black Star, is that at least with law enforcement, he’s had over something like 20 instances where he’s intervened on a local level to rein in police departments, investigate them, like what’s been happening in places like Chicago, and right here in Baltimore, that have carried out pattern and practice of abuse, civil rights, human rights abuses. We saw that in Ferguson, as well.
Should people be concerned with, on one hand, the rise of this white supremacy movement around the country and also a police department that’s going to be empowered to know that, you know, they’re probably not going to be held accountable for killing people, for taking the lives of unarmed black people, or people of color, as we’ve seen happen around the country?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah, if I’m correct it’s approximately 23 cases that are pending within the Justice Department, looking at the pattern and practice of various police forces throughout the country, with the potential to make those police officers change the way in which they arrest, the way in which they use reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause, the way the target racial minorities in some of these places. So, these were serious investigations that lead to consent decrees, or could lead to consent decrees, to actually change some policing on the ground.
I think, again, with Jeff Sessions, he’s been pro-police and the police, the unions have backed him and saying that they have a very good relationship with him, in terms of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the country, their leadership has said that they had a very great relationship with Jeff Sessions, and expect to have an open-door policy.
So this does not bode well for oversight of police from a federal level. What this does do is suggest that the police will be given a free rein from the federal government once again to potentially commit civil rights violations, constitutional violations, human rights violations and the federal government will choose not to step in and choose not to do anything about those violations. Instead, it will be handled within sort of city department levels, mayorship levels, maybe even the state might get involved, the individual state, but there will be no federal power coming to say, “What’s happening here has to be changed and if you don’t change it, then these are the consequences.” I think those days are over. I think those investigations will most likely be immediately shut down when Jeff Sessions comes to power. And I think, again, you have these cities and states having more reign over what they do without any oversight or the worry of oversight from the federal government.
Now, when it comes to these white supremacists, again, the federal government can intervene and charge civil rights abuses, or civil rights violations, into various different cases. The question becomes, will Jeff Sessions — and the answer is probably no — go in and do serious investigations, using the power of the FBI and the Justice Department to weed out some of these bad actors, some of these organizations and individuals, who are already engaged in crimes against black people, Latino people, and others who are different. Whether or not Jeff Sessions will use that power to try to stop that, again, my inclination is to say that that will probably not happen, based on his history and based on some of his prior statements.
JAISAL NOOR: And finally, if the resistance isn’t going to come from the Democratic Party or some of the organizations that already exist today that, you know, have been around, where do you think it’s going to come from, or needs to come from, to oppose everything that we’ve talked about today?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think there is a building movement, a building resistance that has started actually under the Obama Administration, to a lack of proper federal oversight, a lack of enforcement of civil rights laws, a lack of enforcement of human rights, across this country. And I think people have already sort of taken to the streets and I think that will only increase as Donald Trump comes into office. There are many different groups that are planning and organizing to disrupt the Inauguration and or to make sure that that’s a day of protest. Some that I know of are what is called Ungovernable2017.com, which is helping to coordinate events across the country, a listing of events where people can go.
So, I think that’s obviously what’s going to have to happen. I think, you know, doing individual actions are good, but there’s going to have to be a mass movement, a mass amount of people coming out in the streets, a critical mass of people coming out in the streets to say that we are in opposition to what’s going to happen — and we have to do that early to make sure that Donald Trump understands that if he gets into office that there’s going to be citizens or people who are going to try to stop him from doing this. And I think that becomes the start.
JAISAL NOOR: Well, Kamau Franklin, thank you so much for joining us. Your recent piece about Jeff Sessions in the Atlanta Black Star is titled “Jefferson Sessions the Soon-to-Be Attorney General Embodies the Old South.”
Thank you so much for joining us and The Real News will be covering this ongoing Trump administration and the resistance to it. We’ll be there on the ground during the Inauguration and the day after, the Women’s March. We’ll be bringing you live reports and updates throughout the day and we’ll continue to cover the Confirmation Hearings of Trump’s cabinet picks. Thank you so much for joining us.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.