Smear Campaign Against Sessions Ignores the Facts

Smear Campaign Against Sessions Ignores the Facts
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Let’s stipulate upfront that the Senate battle over Jeff Sessions’ nomination for U.S. attorney general is not about Jeff Sessions. Everybody knows this. Everybody also knows the Senate is going to confirm Sessions. No, the opposition to Alabama’s senator is about two things: One, the left’s reflexive opposition to all things Donald Trump. Two, the left’s prep work for the next confirmation battle over Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fight over Sessions’ confirmation to head the Justice Department is spring training, a preseason tune-up for the regular season, i.e., the confirmation showdown with Senate Democrats over Trump’s pick for the high court.

Everybody knows this, because most everybody in the Senate knows Sessions. He’s been there for 20 years. He hasn’t used – is not using – the Senate as a steppingstone to something greater. He has a record. His colleagues have worked with him. He gets along with most of them, Republican and Democrat. Consider, for example, Sessions’ work on behalf of crime victims. As law professors Paul Cassell and Steven Twist recently pointed out, Sessions worked with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the late-Sen. Ted Kennedy in this important area.

All of which makes the left’s opposition to this good and decent man ultimately counter-productive for Democrats. The efforts to cast Sessions as some kind of closet KKK admirer who also opposes the nation’s disabled children is just so predictable. Their ritualized “Borking” has lost its sting. The public has become inoculated to it. “In Jeff Sessions’ America …” We’ve been there, done that over these last ugly decades.

After all, the smear that Sessions is, or was, a racist has come up against a mountain of hard evidence to the contrary. Sessions opposed race-baiting George Wallace when he attended college. In Alabama. In the 1960s. As U.S attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Sessions prosecuted the Klan and its murderous thugs, and worked to desegregate public schools. Later, as Alabama’s attorney general, he went after the perpetrators of a series of black church arsons in the 1990s.

Senate Democrats might be forgiven for not knowing their Alabama history, but many of them have witnessed Sessions’ work in the Senate. He led Senate efforts in 2015 to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma and participated in the commemorative march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He sponsored legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Coretta Scott King, He was one of just 19 Republican senators who voted to confirm the first African-American U.S. attorney general (Eric Holder). He passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to remedy racial disparities in sentencing, winning the praise of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights for his efforts.

As for the recent charge that Sessions opposes the rights of America’s disabled children, the National Review Online’s Carrie Severino made short work of an attack piece in The Huffington Post that was followed, three days later, by a similar smear by Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss. HuffPo writer Jason Cherkis claimed that Sessions made an “inflammatory” speech on the Senate floor. Strauss escalated the smear, saying that Sessions “trashed” and “attacked” the federal law that guarantees students with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education. Sessions, in fact, voted to renew the act. He did offer an amendment to the federal law, but that was to improve the statute – a reality affirmed by the fact that the renewal of the law with Sessions’ amendment passed the Senate, 95-3, with the support of Democrats Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden and Harry Reid. Were they trashing and attacking the act?

All anyone needs to do is read Sessions’ 2000 Senate speech that Cherkis and Strauss find so offensive. First, Sessions couldn’t be clearer about his support for the renewal of the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act. The “mainstreaming” of disabled students is, he maintains, “a good goal, a goal from which we should not retreat.”

And if this is the first you’re hearing about it, there’s a reason. Not one of Sessions’ colleagues considered his comments “inflammatory.” The reason is simple: because they were quite measured.

What is evident in Sessions’ record is a public servant whose humble background and color-blind concern for everyday Americans made him a principled advocate of working-class people long before Donald Trump ever thought of public office. It animated his pursuit of real racists in Alabama, and his hard-line stance on immigration in Washington, D.C. Sessions was working to “drain the swamp” before draining the swamp was cool, convinced that that the “masters of the universe” from Washington, D.C., to New York City have been stacking the deck for themselves and their connected friends, while conditions stagnated or deteriorated for the rest of America in all its colors. This is the Sessions record, and it’s an admirable one.

Ann Corkery is a partner at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner LLP and a former board member of the Beckett Fund.

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