“We are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States,” states the letter, signed by prominent legal scholars including Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, Geoffrey R. Stone of the University of Chicago Law School, Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford Law School and Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California at Irvine School of Law.
The professors — from every state except North Dakota and Alaska, which has no law school — highlight the rejection of Sessions’s nomination to a federal judgeship more than 30 years ago. Robin Walker Sterling of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, one of the organizers of the letter, said that 1,000 professors signed on within 72 hours. “Clearly, there are many, many law professors who are very uneasy with the prospect of Attorney General Sessions, and they are willing to take a public stand in opposition to his nomination,” she said.
The law professors wrote that some of them have concerns about Sessions's prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, his support for building a wall along the nation's southern border and his "repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community."
“Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986,” the letter states, “has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge.”
Sessions’s former chief counsel William Smith, who is African American, has said that people who call Sessions racially insensitive are “just lying. And they should stop the smear campaign.”
“The people making these allegations against Senator Sessions don’t know him,” Smith said in an interview. “In the last 30 years, they probably haven’t spent 10 hours with him. I spent 10 years working with him . . . as his top legal adviser. There are not statements that he made that are inappropriate.”
Allegations of racial insensitivity were made against Sessions at a 1986 Senate hearing when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal judge. His nomination was defeated after being opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way and the NAACP, which is now protesting his nomination for attorney general, calling it "despicable and unacceptable."
Supporters of Sessions note that his nomination has been endorsed by Gerald A. Reynolds, a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In a letter to the Judiciary Committee’s highest-ranking Republican and Democrat, Reynolds, who is African American, said, “Sessions is a man of great character and integrity with a commitment to fairness and equal justice under the law.”
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More than 100 former U.S. attorneys who served under Democratic and Republican presidents have written to the Senate in support of his confirmation.
Sarah Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, said Friday in response to the NAACP statement that Sessions “has dedicated his career to upholding the rule of law, ensuring public safety and prosecuting government corruption.”
“Many African-American leaders who’ve known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General,” Flores’s statement said. “These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited. From the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association to civil rights leaders and African-American elected officials, to victims’ rights organizations, Senator Sessions has inspired confidence from people across the country that he will return the Department of Justice to an agency the American people can be proud of once again.”