Steadfast Sessions || Chronicles Magazine

Steadfast Sessions

Craig Shirley , Andrew Shirley – DECEMBER 08, 2016

President and five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that a man must “believe in his luck” in order to lead.  Jeff Sessions is such a man.  He has not only survived multiple setbacks, considered career ending by many, but has consistently come out ahead.  Most recently, his early and conspicuously vocal endorsement of Donald Trump over Ted Cruz, a move that was dismissed as the final nail in his political coffin, has instead led to him earning the nomination of attorney general in Trump’s Cabinet.  This native Alabamian is in good company when it comes to taking risks.  Gambling runs in the blood of early supporters of Trump, including Newt Gingrich, Laura Ingraham, and a precious few others—the biggest winners of 2016.

However, in the months leading up to Trump’s inauguration, Sessions found himself the subject of accusations that stem from his earliest days as a public servant.

In 1981, Sessions was appointed the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.  During that time, he developed both a reputation for strict observance of the rule of law and a devoted following.  Back then, he was accused by one person of making racist comments.  Yet at the same time, under his direction his office aggressively pursued a case that led to the conviction of two members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were found guilty of lynching Michael Donald, a young black Alabama native.  In November, even as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s president, Richard Cohen, refused to support Sessions’ nomination, declaring that, “If our country is to move forward, we must put all forms of racism behind us,” he couldn’t help but note in his statement that Sessions “was extremely helpful to us while we were representing the family of Michael Donald.”

Based on Sessions’ impressive record as a prosecutor, in 1986 President Ronald Reagan nominated him to a judgeship in a U.S. district court.  Hard-line left-wing members of the Senate got hold of the alleged racist comments and successfully stonewalled the nomination.  While Sessions admitted to some of the comments, he maintained they were taken out of context, but he apologized for them nonetheless.  Most repeated by his leftist enemies was Sessions’ supposed assessment of the KKK: “I used to think they were OK, until I learned they were pot smokers.”  In the 1986 nomination hearings, Barry Kowalski, a federal prosecutor, insisted that it was obvious that Sessions, who had fought the Klan tooth and nail in Alabama, was making a joke.  Yet the rabidly liberal committee was able to use these false allegations to kill the nomination.  As reported by the New York Times at the time, Attorney General Edwin Meese considered this to be “an appalling surrender to the politics of ideology.”  Meese knew something about being unfairly smeared by leftists.

Given this calumny, most men would have walked away from politics and never returned.  But Sessions, believing in his luck and the truth, continued to serve as a U.S. attorney until 1993, and then decided to run for attorney general of Alabama.  In 1995, he managed to defeat a Democratic incumbent, and two years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has served for nearly 20 years.

After his election to the Senate, Sessions soon found himself on the Judiciary Committee, impaneled alongside several senators who had voted against his nomination.  Years later, Arlen Specter, one of those adversarial colleagues, frankly declared,

I don’t expect everybody to agree with all my votes, and I don’t agree with all my votes, either, at this point . . . and I was asked the other day what vote I regretted, and I couldn’t think of one that I wanted to publicly [sic] state, but I’m prepared to do that now in response to your question.  My vote against candidate Sessions for the federal court was a mistake . . . I have since found that Sen. Sessions is egalitarian.

Though some pundits and commentators have gone out of their way to paint Sessions as a racist who does not work well with others, a few members of the media have paused long enough to examine the record and discover that he is in fact the opposite of these things.  While Sessions has demonstrated a firm commitment to his convictions, his time in the Senate has been marked by bipartisanship.  He’s joined with Democrats to support criminal-justice reform measures; he worked with Claire McCaskill to limit federal spending; and the Washington Post has noted that a significant number of Democrats speak very highly of him.

Most importantly, Sessions’ views on justice and the role of government—views treated as anachronisms within the East Coast bubble—are shared by a majority of Americans.

For two decades, rampant politicization and constant political gridlock have created an atmosphere in which mayors and justice officials have felt free to overstep the powers of their office, routinely disregarding laws that they find inconvenient.  This is what Sessions truly hates.  He is passionately committed to the rule of law.  The record shows that Sessions has not hesitated to challenge laws that have proved to be inadequate, but, until those laws can be reformed, Sessions insists that they be upheld.  This commitment to the rule of law has animated his most aggressive views on corporate influence, sanctuary cities, and immigration reform.  The very notion that a mayor can wake up one morning and decide that he will no longer enforce the laws he is sworn to uphold is a threat to constitutional order, in Sessions’ view.  This nuance is ignored by his detractors, who instead attempt to frame his positions in the context of alleged racist comments that are three decades old.  As former attorney general John Ashcroft said, “When attackers resort to 30-year-old falsehoods it is clear evidence of their lack of substantive objection.”

In a 2009 interview with the National Journal, Sessions addressed those allegations directly:

I am absolutely a firm supporter of equal rights for every American.  I always have been and I always will be.  That is a cornerstone of law.  Nobody should be discriminated against.  Now, we had discrimination in the South.  There was no doubt about it.  So that’s what the civil rights movement was all about. 

Now, when I was out there, I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies—the takeover of school systems, redrawing lines—all those things that I was allowed to participate in supporting.

Not only did he sign these pleadings, but he backed a 30-year extension of the Civil Rights Act.  Furthermore, one of the Klan members he prosecuted was the son of the head of the Alabama Klan, putting Sessions directly in the KKK’s crosshairs.  This case led to a civil suit that bankrupted and crippled the KKK’s operations in the state.

The description of Sessions as a racist and a bigot that is being bandied about by liberal pundits doesn’t fit the facts.

Indeed, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow gave a glowing endorsement of Sessions, in which he stated,

Senator Sessions is a good man and a great man.  He has done more to protect the jobs and enhance the wages of black workers than anyone in either house of Congress over the last 10 years.  Of all the Senators and public officials that I’ve dealt with, I cannot think of anyone who has been more devoted to issues related to wages and employment levels of all Americans, but particularly black American workers. . . . 

He is a man of tremendous integrity.  I think it was an inspired pick. . . .

He’s going to be a marvelous Attorney General.

We may grant that, three decades ago, Sessions made comments that were in poor taste—including his joke about pot-smoking Klansmen, which has been quoted ad nauseam by the liberal mainstream media.  But it is only fair for us to wonder: Do these progressive pundits hold liberal politicians to the same standard?

John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s 2009 book Game Change is remembered for its unflattering portrayal of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.  Liberals loves to cite the book whenever they wish to attack Republicans, but they tend to forget other horrifying facts brought to light in the book about members of the Democratic Party.  According to Heilemann and Halperin, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to President Obama as “a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’”  Former President Bill Clinton told Ted Kennedy that, “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,” and later implied that Kennedy only endorsed Obama “because he’s black.”  The very same members of the media who chastise Sessions apparently had no problem with the fact that Hil lary Clinton openly celebrated her friendship with former Sen. Robert Byrd, a former member of the KKK who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  While Byrd later declared that he regretted his membership in the Klan, the Clintons preferred to pretend that his membership in the racist organization was not quite real, rationalizing that Byrd was merely using the KKK to pursue his political ambitions.  Thus, we see that actual racist comments and associations do not warrant condemnation if the person in question is a liberal Democrat.

Only conservatives can be racists; liberals merely “make mistakes.”

Nonetheless, even while condemning Sessions, ABC News reported that the

Former US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Larry D. Thompson, who is African-American, testified on Sessions’ behalf, saying Sessions is “a good man and an honest man, untainted by prejudice.  I have experienced racism all my life.  Yet I know Jeff Sessions—not as a symbol, not just as a colleague—but as a man and a friend.  He will serve our nation well as a United States District Court judge.”

In times past, when the Senate reviewed a presidential judicial appointment, the committee concerned itself chiefly with the experience of the candidate.  The political positions and personal opinions of the individual were not addressed at length.  Then Ted Kennedy came along.  Most famously, Kennedy viciously attacked the character of Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork during his confirmation hearings.  All of Bork’s personal views were ludicrously amplified and vilified by Kennedy:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

Ultimately, Kennedy’s attacks prevailed, and Bork was denied confirmation; Reagan ultimately appointed Anthony Kennedy.

But before Borking entered our political discourse, Ted Kennedy perfected the art of Borking on Jeff Sessions.

When allegations of Sessions’ racist statements first began to surface, Ted Kennedy smelled blood in the water.  He wasted no time in lambasting Sessions as “a throwback to a disgraceful era” and “a disgrace to the Justice Department.”  Kennedy’s bombastic rhetoric against Sessions was little more than a political maneuver against his foe Ronald Reagan, whom he sought to obstruct at every turn.  Sessions was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The media’s case against Jeff Sessions requires us to believe that whatever he may have said 30 years ago means more than every public action he has taken since then.  Were he in favor of “comprehensive immigration reform” (amnesty), he would undoubtedly have been absolved of his sins.  As a conservative known foremost for his opposition to illegal immigration, however, he is beyond redemption.

By the lights of the left, Sessions’ real sins are his political positions: He is pro-life and anti-corruption, committed not to ideology but to the rule of law and equality before the law.  His tenure in the Trump administration will serve as an indictment of eight sordid years of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.  The left greatly fears that, like Hercules of old, Sessions will clean out the Augean stables of the Obama Department of Justice.  He will continue to stick to his conservative principles and “believe in his luck.”

That is why the left has opposed Sessions so viciously.

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