With the selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next U.S. Attorney General by President-elect Donald Trump, his legislative record is under intense scrutiny as America looks for insight into what kind of prosecutor and legal defender he will be.
And based on a 2009 report in the New Republic, one answer is: someone impatient, unsympathetic, homophobic, and anti-marriage equality.
Someone who sighs in the face of the crying boy of a lesbian couple. Someone who responds to his tears with “Enough with the histrionics.”
As the Washington Blade reported this week, the report centered on what the Alabama Republican said at a June 2009 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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The committee met to discuss the Uniting American Families Act and the plight of bi-national same-sex couples. Shirley Tan, a Filipino national who at that time was raising twin 12-year-old boys alongside her partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado, an American citizen. Tan and her boys were under the threat of deportation.
She couldn’t marry Mercado because of California’s Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage in their home state. The Defense of Marriage Act was also in effect, and would have barred Mercado from filing for a marriage-based green card so Tan and her sons could remain in the country.
That would change if the Uniting American Families Act was enacted, allowing gay Americans to sponsor a same-sex partner for residency in the United States.
Tan did not want to go home to the Philippines, not just because of her partner but also for her own protection; a man who had gone to prison for beating her was now out of a Filipino prison.
She was originally scheduled to be deported in April 2009, but Senator Diane Feinstein came to her rescue with a bill allowing her to stay in the country temporarily.
The hearing offered Tan an opportunity to plead her case. With her twin sons watching, she shared her emotional story, but right from the start one of Tan’s boys started crying. Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy stopped the hearing to offer the child a break, or to leave the hearing room.
But the boy stayed by his mom’s side. “I have a grandson the same age,” Leahy said to him. “I just want you to know, young man, your mother is a brave woman. You should be very proud of her.”
So how did Sessions react? Out journalist Jamie Kirchick recorded that moment in the New Republic:
“For most people, the sight of a 12-year-old boy in tears at the prospect of his mother being deported halfway around the world would invoke some sympathy. Unmoved, however, was Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, ranking minority member of the Committee and the only Republican to bother to attend the hearing. At the sight of the weeping boy, according to a Senate staffer who was at the hearing, Sessions leaned towards one of his aides and sighed, “Enough with the histrionics.”
As Chris Johnson noted in the Blade, that quote by Sessions is “consistent with his opposition to same-sex marriage, his support for Donald Trump’s plan to expel millions of undocumented immigrants from the United States, his view that the Justice Department shouldn’t have stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and his stated belief the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality nationwide was ‘unconstitutional.'”
Lambda Legal Executive Director Rachel Tiven told the Blade she “of course” remembers the 2009 incident. At that time she was chief of Immigration Equality, which worked with the committee to arrange the hearing.
“The attorney general does not have the power to rescind laws, executive orders, regulations, or guidance issued by other federal agencies,” Tiven told Johnson.
“What is of great concern, however, is the attorney general’s role in determining the position of the federal government in lawsuits in which it is sued, the cases the Department of Justice chooses to bring, and who will fill high-level positions at the Department of Justice. In the years ahead, Lambda Legal will protect and defend LGBT and HIV+ people, and help lead the resistance to attacks on the civil rights of all.”
Watch the video of the 2009 hearing, below.