In an almost party-line vote, Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General by the Senate.
The confirmation represents a setback for civil rights in the United States. Sessions has called the Voting Rights Act “intrusive legislation” and, as a federal prosecutor in Alabama in the 1980’s, prosecuted a man for registering African Americans to vote on charges of fraud (the jury acquitted the man). He pursued nonviolent drug cases at a much higher rate than other federal prosecutors, and, in the Senate, has opposed legislation that would ease prison sentences of nonviolent offenders.
His record on civil rights prompted Cory Booker (D, NJ) to become the first sitting Senator in history to testify against a fellow Senator in a nomination hearing.
Sessions also has a record of strong opposition to LGBT rights, earning him a “0” rating from HRC. He opposed the Matthew Shepard Act while in the Senate, arguing that he doesn’t believe that LGBT people “face that kind of discrimination.”
He will be heading the Justice Department, whose responsibilities include monitoring state and local law enforcement’s response to hate crimes, as well as monitoring local police’s use of excessive force against communities of color. Sessions has opposed federal involvement in local law enforcement.
The Justice Department is also involved with overseeing federal anti-discrimination law enforcement in the federal workforce. Sessions has expressed more concern with granting exemptions to anti-discrimination law.
“There are situations in which I believe we can reach accommodations that would allow the religious beliefs of persons to be honored in some fashion as opposed to just dictating everything under a single provision or policy. We should recognize religious freedom. It will be a very high priority of mine,” Sessions said in confirmation hearings.
When he was the attorney general for Alabama, Sessions tried to block the Southeastern Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Conference under a state law that prohibits positive discussions of homosexuality in schools. That law was struck down by a federal judge, citing First Amendment concerns, but Sessions was undeterred.
“I intend to do everything I can to stop that conference,” he said, saying that the conference would cause “irreparable harm.” The conference occurred anyway.