Sessions’ Strong Record On Civil Rights


‘Prosecuted The KKK,’ ‘Focused On Solving The Fires’ At Black Churches, Won ‘Hard-Fought Victory For Civil Rights’ On Drug Sentencing Which ‘Unfairly Impact[s] Minority Communities’

REP. MARTHA ROBY (R-AL): “I'm sharing these photos that my staff member took in Selma during the 50th Anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday,’ showing Senator Sessions joining arms with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and other leaders to cross the Edmund-Pettus Bridge. That was an important day for Alabama, and Senator Sessions made it a point to be there because he knew how meaningful his presence and participation were.” (Rep. Roby, Facebook, 11/20/16)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): “Fifty years ago, it was a time of tension and real danger. The marchers courageously moved forward on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to demand the voting rights to which they were entitled. They were attacked for doing so. This dramatic event captured the attention of the nation, led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and was a key event in ending the systematic denial of the right of African-American citizens to vote in many areas. Those who marched on that day deserve the high honor of the Congressional Gold Medal, which is reserved for exceptional achievements. I am deeply humbled by the strong, bipartisan support this bill received in both the House and the Senate. Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement will serve as an enduring reminder of the blood, courage and sacrifice those marchers faced in the pursuit of equality.” (Sen. Sessions, Press Release, 3/6/15)

  • SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL) was the lead sponsor of S.527, ‘A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or in the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” (S.527, Introduced 2/12/15)

SESSIONS vs. THE KLAN: ‘The Sentence Here Should Impart The Message That Justice Has Been Done’

DR. ALVEDA KING, Niece Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Sen. Sessions prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan. … he prosecuted the KKK.” (Fox News, 11/20/16)

FLASHBACK: “A Ku Klux Klansman whose killing of a black teen-ager ultimately bankrupted the KKK faction that incited the crime was executed early today in Alabama's first execution for a white-on-black crime since 1913. The inmate, Henry Francis Hays, 42, was convicted in the 1981 slaying of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old black man who was abducted at random from a Mobile street by two men, then beaten, cut and strangled. His body was strung up in a tree. Gov. Fob James Jr. refused to grant clemency to Mr. Hays. Prosecutors said the slaying was ordered by Klan leaders ‘to show Klan strength in Alabama.’ Instead, the slaying wound up financially destroying the United Klans of America in 1987. A jury found the Klan liable in a wrongful-death case brought by Mr. Donald's mother and was ordered to pay $7 million. The Klan had nowhere near that amount in assets. It had to sign over its Tuscaloosa, Ala., building to Beulah Mae Donald, who sold it for about $52,000 and bought a house.” (“Klan Member Put to Death In Race Death,” AP, 6/6/1997)

  • JEFF SESSIONS: “…I did work on it…  I insisted that the case that eventually developed against one of the klansmen be sent to the State court and tried there, despite our desire to be involved in it, because Alabama had the death penalty or life without parole.” (Senate Judiciary Committee, 1986)

“A Ku Klux Klansman who pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of a black youth by killing him and hanging his body from a tree was sentenced Thursday to life in prison. ‘The sentence here should impart the message that justice has been done,’ U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions said.” (“Klansman Given Life Sentence In Random Killing Of Black Youth,” AP, 4/11/1985)

  • “James Knowles, 21, received the maximum sentence from U.S. District Court Judge W. Brevard Hand in the death of Michael Donald, 19, in March 1981. He had testified that he and another Klansman, Henry Francis Hays, 29, abducted Donald at random from a Mobile street and killed him because he was black to ‘show Klan strength in Alabama.’ ... ‘Although Donald's family can never be made whole, it may perceive some sense of justice by the most severe sentence permissible here,’ Sessions said.” (“Klansman Given Life Sentence In Random Killing Of Black Youth,” AP, 4/11/1985)
  • “Barry Kowalski, a deputy chief in Justice's civil rights division, recalled working with Sessions in the successful investigation of the 1981 Klan lynching of a young black man, Michael Donald. Sessions was ‘very supportive of our efforts’ and was ‘eager to see that justice was done,’ Kowalski said.” (“Civil Rights Activists Decry Reagan Appointee As Bigot,” The Miami Herald, 3/20/86)

FAIR SENTENCING ACT OF 2010: ‘Sessions Was One Of The Bill’s … Lead Authors—A Testament To His Doggedness In The Pursuit Of Equal Justice’ Regarding Sentencing Disparities Between Crack And Powder Cocaine

“Senator Sessions has been intimately involved in assuring that even as the Department combats the scourge of illegal drugs, the penalties imposed on defendants do not unfairly impact minority communities.” (Former Attorneys General, Letter To Sens. Grassley And Feinstein, 12/05/2016)

“[In 1998 Sen. Sessions] spoke about addicts and criminals not with vilification, but with compassion. ‘You’ve got these poor guys in the inner city,’ I remember him saying. ‘Nobody provided them much of an education; they can’t find a job; and somebody tells them they can get high for relatively cheap by smoking these crack rocks. They get addicted and they do something terrible and end up in jail and their lives get ruined. It was this same train of thought—compassion for the users of crack cocaine—that led Sen. Sessions to introduce the Drug Sentencing Reform Act in 2001. The law at the time punished crack cocaine 100 times more harshly than powdered cocaine. Mr. Sessions specifically argued that this created unfair racial disparities, since crack was the drug of poor inner cities, while powder was favored by white Wall Streeters. Such compassion for black addicts is far from a hallmark of someone motivated by racial animus.” (Quin Hillyer, Op-Ed, “The Racist Smear Against Jeff Sessions,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2016)

“Sen. Sessions, with mostly Democratic allies initially, kept pushing. As my intermittent conversations with him over the next nine years demonstrated, it was a passion of his. Mr. Sessions was tough on crime, but he seemed troubled to the core by the thought of sentencing injustice, especially with a racial component. Finally, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, reducing the disparity. Mr. Sessions was one of the bill’s three lead authors—a testament to his doggedness in the pursuit of equal justice.” (Quin Hillyer, Op-Ed, “The Racist Smear Against Jeff Sessions,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2016)

“Congress took a courageous and historic step last week toward making the criminal justice system more fair. House lawmakers embraced a measure to reduce the 100-to-1 sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine; the Senate approved the proposal in the spring. The president is expected to sign the bill on Tuesday. For the past three decades, those arrested for crack offenses -- mostly young, African American men -- faced far harsher penalties than the white and Hispanic suspects most often caught with powder cocaine. … The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity to 18 to 1.” (Editorial, “The Fair Sentencing Act Corrects A Long-Time Wrong In Cocaine Cases,” The Washington Post, 8/3/10)

“While crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, crack is statistically used more often by minorities and carried much harsher punishments. ‘It started with Jeff Sessions in 2001,’ said Hillyer. ‘He went to work for nine years to fix it and he was the guy who pushed it. It was tough to get others on board because who wants to be seen as lenient on crack cocaine? He said that 'we're not being lenient, but we're going to equalize it.'’ (“From Courtrooms To Capitol Hill: The Evolution Of Jeff Sessions,” AL.Com, 11/27/16)

FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: “The bill greatly reduces the unwarranted disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses, and will go a long way toward ensuring that our sentencing laws are tough, consistent, and fair... This day was long in coming, and I want to express my appreciation to the members of the House and Senate who worked tirelessly to bring about this result. Particular thanks are due to … the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Sessions and Senators Durbin and Graham.” (U.S. Department of Justice, Press Release, 7/28/2010)

  • “The enactment of the law seals a hard-fought victory for civil rights activists who have argued for years that the differing punishments unfairly target African-Americans... African-Americans have been far more likely than whites and Hispanics to be convicted for -- and receive the harsher penalties associated with -- possession of crack cocaine, according to government statistics. White and Hispanic defendants are more frequently charged with possession of powder cocaine.” (“Obama Signs Bill Reducing Cocaine Sentencing Gap,” CNN, 8/03/2010)

LEADERSHIP COUNCIL ON CIVIL RIGHTS: “The Leadership Conference also worked with Senator Sessions in an effort that culminated in the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced racial disparities in federal cocaine sentencing provisions.” (Letter To Sens. McConnell, Reid, Grassley, And Leahy Opposing Confirmation Of Jeff Sessions, The Leadership Conference On Civil And Human Rights, 12/1/16)

In Mid-1990s Sessions ‘Focused On Solving The Fires’ At Black Churches

Sessions “Focused on solving the fires.” “…the administration – including Attorney General Jeff Sessions – are focused on solving the fires, aides to James and Sessions say.” (“Rural Church Fires Strike At Heart Of Black Community,” Birmingham News, 3/10/96)

  • “In December and January, Mount Zoar, Mount Zion and Little Zion Baptist churches were razed by fires authorities have said are suspicious. A fourth church, New Liberty Baptist Church, burned Feb. 28 in Dallas County, and a 19-year-old white man was charged with arson Wednesday. … The Alabama churches are among 17 fires that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have been investigating at predominantly black churches throughout the Southeast that have occurred within the past 14 months.” (“Rural Church Fires Strike At Heart Of Black Community,” Birmingham News, 3/10/96)

“A retired federal agent who specializes in explosives and arson has been hired by Sessions' office to aid in the probe. The state is paying George Barrows $200 a day, not to exceed $12,000 with expenses, according to Chief Deputy Attorney General Richard Allen.” (“Rural Church Fires Strike At Heart Of Black Community,” Birmingham News, 3/10/96)

“Meeting with a bipartisan delegation of Southern governors and law-enforcement officials, President Clinton vowed today to intensify efforts to prevent burnings of predominantly black churches…” (“Clinton And Southern Governors Confer On Efforts To Deter Burning Of Black Churches,” The New York Times, 6/20/96)

  • “Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended the meeting with Clinton.” (“Civil Rights Leader Blasts Governor For Not Meeting With Commission Or Clinton,” Birmingham News, 7/3/96)

“…Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions today was attending a summit on church burnings and hate crimes, hosted by Virginia Attorney General Jim Gilmore, at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington.” (“Fires At Black, White Churches Rise In ’95-’96,” Birmingham News, 7/2/96)

In 1983, Sessions ‘Supportive’ Of ‘The Justice Department’s First Voter Suppression Lawsuit, United States V. Conecuh County’

Sessions aided “…the Justice Department’s first voter suppression lawsuit, United States v. Conecuh County…” (“Effective Monitoring Of Polling Places,” Baylor Law Review Vol. 61:1, Pg.57, 8/4/2010)

  • “…a list of Sessions’s ‘top civil rights enforcement cases.’ …states that Sessions ‘brought the first anti voter suppression lawsuit in the history of the Department of Justice,’ in the 1983 case U.S. v. Conecuh County, when ‘Sessions sued white Conecuh County election officials, including the Chair of the local Republican Party.’ Sessions is indeed listed on the filing.” (The Atlantic, 12/7/16)
  • “John Tanner, a former Bush-era Justice Department appointee and the main attorney on that case, said … he discussed the case with Sessions, who seemed ‘interested’ and ‘supportive’...” (The Atlantic, 12/7/16)
  • John Tanner noted “Not every Southern U.S. attorney was cooperative with the civil rights division in that era, but Sessions was.” (The Atlantic, 12/7/16)

SESSIONS: ‘I Rise Today To Honor A Native Alabamian … Ms. Rosa Parks’

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL) was an original co-sponsor of S.531, ‘A bill to authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Rosa Parks in recognition of her contributions to the Nation.” (S.531, Signed Into Law 5/4/1999)

  • SESSIONS (R-AL): “I rise today to honor a native Alabamian who, through her life and through her example, has touched both the heart and the conscience of an entire nation. I speak, of course, of Ms. Rosa Parks, a native of Tuskegee and a former resident of Montgomery whose dignity in the face of discrimination helped spark a movement to ensure that all citizens were treated equally under the law. Equal treatment under the law is a fundamental pillar upon which our republic rests.” (Sen. Sessions, Press Release, 4/19/1999)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL) was a co-sponsor of S.Con.Res.62, ‘A concurrent resolution directing the Joint Committee on the Library to procure a statue of Rosa Parks for placement in the Capitol.’ (S.Con.Res.62, Passed the Senate 11/16/2005)

  • SESSIONS (R-AL): “It is a story I would suggest that only divine providence could write. … Certainly, the life of Rosa Parks produced an advancement of freedom, equality, and progress. These accomplishments rose from her steadfast courage and strength that she found from above. As a result, she fulfilled her calling, and she met her challenge on that afternoon when she came home weary from work, with dignity and integrity.” (Sen. Sessions, Congressional Record, S.24283, 11/2/2005)

Additional Senate Actions Of Note

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL) was a co-sponsor of S.392, ‘A bill to authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of Congress, collectively, to the Tuskegee Airmen in recognition of their unique military record, which inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.’ (S.392, Signed Into Law 4/11/2006)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): “I want to take a moment to express some thoughts about the death of Coretta Scott King. She grew up in Perry County, AL. Her father ran a country store as did mine. … Dr. and Mrs. King and Rosa Parks truly changed a system that could not be defended. It was a system that treated people, because of the color of their skin, as second-class citizens and not equal. It was not a defensible system morally or legally. Judge Frank Johnson got the bus boycott case, and he ruled that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution said people should be treated equally. Requiring someone to go to the back of the bus, despite a State statute to the contrary, did not represent equality. It was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed, and that gave a real boost to the civil rights movement. During her 78 years, Mrs. King represented the kind of character and integrity and commitment to right living that should inspire us all. And she has given her best full measure. She has seen the toils and snares of life. She moved through them through her full and complete time on this Earth. She has run the race and is fully entitled to the rewards of that successful race. It is my honor and privilege to express, on behalf of the people of Alabama, my sympathy to the King family, to wish them well and to say to them how our State, our Nation, and, indeed, the world is better off for the courage they displayed.” (Sen. Sessions, Tribute To Coretta Scott King, 2/7/2006)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL) was a co-sponsor of S.Res.39, ‘A resolution apologizing to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation’ which passed the Senate in 2005. (S.Res.39, Passed 6/13/2005)

‘Campaigned Against Segregationist Candidates’ In College

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): ‘I opposed George Wallace in college’ “Sessions, who spoke with Obama on Tuesday about the Supreme Court vacancy, told POLITICO... ‘I opposed George Wallace in college,’ he said. ‘My record has never been that way. I don't believe in that, but I am a believer in the law and in equal treatment.’” (“The GOP’s New Point Man,” Politico, 5/6/09)


Related Issues: Nominations