Meet the white supremacist Attorney General

Ari Berman tells us more about Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General.

Donald Trump has chosen a white nationalist as his chief strategist and a white nationalist sympathizer as his pick for Attorney General. Like the Confederate general he is named after, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has long been a leading voice for the Old South and the conservative white backlash vote Trump courted throughout his campaign. Sessions, as a US senator from Alabama, has been the fiercest opponent in the Senate of immigration reform, a centerpiece of Trump’s agenda, and has a long history of opposition to civil rights, dating back to his days as a US Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s.

The Senate rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship during the Reagan administration because of racist statements he made and for falsely prosecuting black political activists in Alabama. He opposed the Voting Rights Act, the country’s most important civil rights law.

Then he tells a hideous story. Albert Turner was a civil rights activist, who was beaten alongside John Lewis on the Bloody Sunday march in Selma. After the Voting Rights Act passed he became Alabama field secretary for the SCLC, signing up voters.

Because of Turner’s work, African-Americans gained political control of many counties in the Alabama Black Belt, where you could practically count the number of black voters on one hand in 1965. But the flourishing of black political power in the Black Belt didn’t sit well with the old white power structure.

In the Democratic primary of September 1984, FBI agents hid behind the bushes of the Perry County post office, waiting for Turner and fellow activist Spencer Hogue to mail 500 absentee ballots on behalf of elderly black voters. When Turner and Hogue left, the feds seized the envelopes from the mail slots. Twenty elderly black voters from Perry County were bused three hours to Mobile, where they were interrogated by law enforcement officials and forced to testify before a grand jury. Ninety-two-year-old Willie Bright was so frightened of “the law” that he wouldn’t even admit he’d voted.

In January 1985, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the 39-year-old US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, charged Turner, his wife Evelyn and Hogue with 29 counts of mail fraud, altering absentee ballots and conspiracy to vote more than once. They faced over one hundred years in jail on criminal charges and felony statutes under the VRA – provisions of the law that had scarcely been used to prosecute the white officials who had disenfranchised blacks for so many years. The Turners and Hogue became known as the Marion Three. (This story is best told in Lani Guinier’s book Lift Every Voice.)

The trial was held in Selma, of all places. The jury of seven blacks and five whites deliberated for less than three hours before returning a not guilty verdict on all counts.

That will be the Attorney General. I want to vomit.

Four months after that verdict, Reagan nominated Sessions for a federal judgeship. The Senate rejected the nomination.

Now Sessions will be in charge of enforcing the civil rights laws he once opposed, like the Voting Rights Act. He’s almost certain to further weaken what’s left of the law and to encourage the kind of bogus prosecutions for voter fraud that led him to be rejected for a federal judgeship.

Sessions hardly reformed his views after he was elected to the Senate in 1996. He frequently earned an “F” rating from civil rights groups like the NAACP and “consistently opposed the bread-and-butter civil rights agenda,” Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington office, told The New Republic. He voted to reauthorize the VRA in 2006 but praised the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the law in 2013, cluelessly saying, “if you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.” (As but one example of ongoing voting discrimination, his home state of Alabama tried to close 31 DMV offices, many in majority-black counties, after requiring strict photo ID to vote.)

Thanks Putin, thanks Assange, thanks Comey, thanks Bannon. You shits.

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