Can Sessions Fairly Judge Sotomayor?
Not according to J. Gerald Hebert, a former Justice Department lawyer who worked with Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and testified at his 1986 confirmation hearing.
Back in 1986, Sessions was a U.S. Attorney who’d been nominated to be a federal judge by President Ronald Reagan. He was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee — the second time that had happened in half a century — after witnesses reported hearing him make comments such as referring to the NAACP as “un-American” and to a white lawyer working on a civil rights case in Alabama as “a disgrace to his race.”
NPR’s Michel Martin yesterday asked Hebert how that should affect how we view his criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor now:
MARTIN: Is there something in [Sessions’] record at the time that causes you to believe that he did cross that line from being merely conservative in his approach to social issues to being racially hostile or insensitive was the word that was commonly used?
HEBERT: Oh, definitely back in 1986, I had no doubt about that and testified to that effect, I believe, that it wasn’t a question of, you know, he was joking about these things or saying them in a joking manner. He was someone who was a product of the Deep South, and his racial attitudes reflected at that time a continued hostility towards equal-opportunity efforts by African- Americans, particularly in Alabama.And that was true back then, and obviously he now represents many of those same people as a U.S. senator.
He will ask questions that he thinks he’s entitled to ask, and he’ll ask them in a very professional and what I would believe would be a very polite way. At the same time, ultimately, many of us feel that no matter what the answers are, he’ll still ultimately vote no.
Although it’s been 20 years since Hebert’s testimony, he said yesterday:
“I would still have concerns, frankly, today, just knowing the public persona of Jeff Sessions that I’ve seen over the years.”