Sixteen Harvard Law School faculty members have joined thousands of other law professors across the country in signing a letter opposing Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions’s nomination as United States Attorney General.
In the letter, originally published Jan. 3, the authors raise concerns about Sessions’s civil rights record, his support for constructing a wall on the border between Mexico and the United States, and his opposition to legislation authors say advance the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals, among other issues. Law professors from several different universities first penned the letter, which is addressed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and more than 1,300 faculty members at law schools across the country have signed it. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings for Sessions, who represents Alabama, beginning Jan. 10.
“As law faculty who work every day to better understand the law and teach it to our students, we are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States. We urge you to reject his nomination,” the letter reads.
Law School professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who signed the letter, said Sessions’s record on voting rights, especially for minorities, is deeply troubling to him.
“The aim of the letter is to raise the significant issues about voting, which is fundamental to our democratic experiment and, once these issues are raised, we hope that the committee and the citizenry in general would not support this nominee,” Sullivan said. “We certainly think that, party affiliation aside, no Attorney General should have taken such a radical view about voting rights laws.”
Sullivan pointed to a 1985 case in which Sessions, then a United States Attorney, oversaw a team of prosecutors that charged three black voter registration activists—commonly referred to as “The Marion Three”—with violating federal mail fraud statutes and tampering with absentee ballots. Critics say that the charges Sessions brought against the black activists were unwarranted and that Sessions ignored allegations that white individuals had similarly tampered with absentee ballots in previous elections.
“He advocated a position that I deem to be unconstitutional, unpatriotic, and in violation of the foundational norms that animate our democracy,” Sullivan said.
Law School professor Lani Guinier signed the letter and served as one of the defense attorneys in the 1985 case. In an interview, she read from what she said was p. 191 of her book “Lift Every Voice,” which discusses Sessions.
“US Attorney Jeff Sessions had been quoted as saying that he ‘used to think’ the Klu Klux Klan was ‘okay’ until he found out that some members were ‘pot smokers’,” Guinier said, quoting her writing. “Sessions was also reported to have made statements that he believed the NAACP was ‘un-American’ and that the American Civil Liberties Union was ‘communist inspired.’”
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokesperson for Sessions and a former fellow at the Institute of Politics, said Sessions’s nomination would be confirmed with votes from both Democrats and Republicans.
“This is just business as usual for the same far-left academics who trot our letters opposing just about any conservative or Republican who’s nominated to a key position by a Republican president,” Flores wrote in an emailed statement. “Jeff Sessions enjoys wide support from law enforcement organizations to civil rights leaders to victims’ rights organizations and many others.”
Law school professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62, who also signed the letter, said he doubts that it will actually influence the Senate’s decision about Sessions.
“Because the Senate very rarely rejects one of its own, though, I don't really expect our letter to stop Senator Sessions from becoming the next Attorney General, which is a terrible shame for civil rights and liberties and for justice in America,” Tribe said.
Law School faculty members Deborah E. Anker, Sabrineh Ardalan, John Willshire Carrera, Christine Desan, Janet Halley, Bruce Hay, Nancy Kelly, Heather Scheiwe Kulp, Frank Michelman, Robert H. Mnookin, Joseph W. Singer, Carol S. Steiker, and Dehlia Umunna also signed the letter.
—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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