ACLU Legal Director Testifies at Attorney General Confirmation Hearing

ACLU Legal Director Testifies at Attorney General Confirmation Hearing

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Read the full testimony

Testimony of ACLU National Legal Director David Cole at Senate Confirmation Hearing for Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

Transcribed by Matt Kendrick

DAVID COLE: Thank you for inviting me to testify. 

The ACLU is a nonpartisan organization with a long-standing policy of neither endorsing nor opposing nominees for federal office. We rarely testify in confirmation hearings, as a result. We do so today because we believe Sen. Session’s record raises serious questions about the fitness of Sen. Sessions to be an Attorney General for all the American people. We take no position on how you should ultimately vote, but we urge you to painstakingly probe the many serious questions that his actions, words, and deeds raise about his commitment to civil rights and civil liberties. 

Concerns arise from his conduct as a prosecutor, and from his record as a Senator. As a prosecutor, when he exercised the power to prosecute, the most pow - the most serious power that any government official of the United States exercises, he abused that power. Cornell Brooks has already talked about his prosecution, ultimately baseless, of civil rights heroes for seeking to increase the black vote in Alabama. He didn’t investigate those who sought to help White voters, but he did investigate and prosecute those who sought to aid Black voters. Many of the charges in that case were dismissed before they even went to the jury, because they were baseless. The jury then acquitted of all charges. 

In a second case, the Tyco (sp?) case, Sen. sessions collaborated with campaign contributors to his senatorial campaign to use the office of the criminal prosecutor to intervene in a private business decision on behalf of his contributors. He filed a 222 count indictment against Tyco, a - a engineering supply serv - corporation. All charges in the case were dismissed. Many were dismissed because, again, they were baseless. There was no evidence whatsoever to support them. The others were dismissed on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, and the judge who dismissed them said that this was the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he had seen in his career on the bench. Mr. Sessions’ successor, Mr. Prior (sp?) did not even appeal that decision. So those actions raise serious questions about his fitness to become the most powerful prosecutor in the land. 

Second, his record as a Senator. Here he has shown blindness or outright hostility to the concerns of the people whose rights he would be responsible to protect. On voting rights, he supported felon disenfranchisement laws, and voter ID laws that suppress the Black vote. When the Supreme Court gutted the single most effective provision of the Civil Rights Act, the most important statute in getting African-Americans the right to vote in this country, Sen. Sessions called that “... a good day for the South.” 

On religious tolerance, he called Islam “a toxic ideology”. It is in fact a religion practiced by millions of Americans. Imagine if he called Christianity a toxic ideology. Now, he says he opposes the Muslim ban on entrance to the United States, but when Donald Trump proposed that, he stood up and opposed a resolution introduced here in the Senate to keep religion out of immigration decision. 

On Women’s rights, now, he says that grabbing women’s genitals is sexual assault. But when Donald Trump’s tape recorded bragging about his doing precisely that was made public, Sen. Sessions said, and I quote, “I don’t characterize that as a sexual assault.” That’s a stretch. When he voted against extending the hate crimes law to crimes motivated by gender and sexual orientation, he said, and I quote, “I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it.” Well if you don’t see discrimination, you can’t very well enforce the laws against discrimination. 

On torture, he now says that torture - waterboarding is illegal. But he praised Michael Mukasey (sp?) for not ruling out waterboarding. And he opposed Sen. McCain’s amendment, which was designed to make it clear that waterboarding was illegal.

On criminal justice, he is an outlier, departing even with many of his Republican colleagues who seek to make the criminal justice system more fair and less harsh. 

If someone applying to intern for one of your offices had as many questions in his record as Sen. Sessions has: racist comments, unethical conduct, padding of his resume, you would not hire him -- absent the most thorough investigation and inquiry, if then. Sen. Sessions is not seeking to be an intern. He’s nominated to be the most powerful law enforcement officer in the nation. 

The Senate and, more importantly, the American people deserve satisfactory answers to these questions before Sen. Sessions is confirmed.

Testimony of ACLU National Legal Director David Cole at Senate Confirmation Hearing for Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

Transcribed by Matt Kendrick

DAVID COLE: Thank you for inviting me to testify.

The ACLU is a nonpartisan organization with a long-standing policy of neither endorsing nor opposing nominees for federal office. We rarely testify in confirmation hearings, as a result. We do so today because we believe Sen. Session’s record raises serious questions about the fitness of Sen. Sessions to be an Attorney General for all the American people. We take no position on how you should ultimately vote, but we urge you to painstakingly probe the many serious questions that his actions, words, and deeds raise about his commitment to civil rights and civil liberties.

Concerns arise from his conduct as a prosecutor, and from his record as a Senator. As a prosecutor, when he exercised the power to prosecute, the most pow - the most serious power that any government official of the United States exercises, he abused that power. Cornell Brooks has already talked about his prosecution, ultimately baseless, of civil rights heroes for seeking to increase the black vote in Alabama. He didn’t investigate those who sought to help White voters, but he did investigate and prosecute those who sought to aid Black voters. Many of the charges in that case were dismissed before they even went to the jury, because they were baseless. The jury then acquitted of all charges.

In a second case, the Tyco (sp?) case, Sen. sessions collaborated with campaign contributors to his senatorial campaign to use the office of the criminal prosecutor to intervene in a private business decision on behalf of his contributors. He filed a 222 count indictment against Tyco, a - a engineering supply serv - corporation. All charges in the case were dismissed. Many were dismissed because, again, they were baseless. There was no evidence whatsoever to support them. The others were dismissed on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, and the judge who dismissed them said that this was the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he had seen in his career on the bench. Mr. Sessions’ successor, Mr. Prior (sp?) did not even appeal that decision. So those actions raise serious questions about his fitness to become the most powerful prosecutor in the land.

Second, his record as a Senator. Here he has shown blindness or outright hostility to the concerns of the people whose rights he would be responsible to protect. On voting rights, he supported felon disenfranchisement laws, and voter ID laws that suppress the Black vote. When the Supreme Court gutted the single most effective provision of the Civil Rights Act, the most important statute in getting African-Americans the right to vote in this country, Sen. Sessions called that “... a good day for the South.”

On religious tolerance, he called Islam “a toxic ideology”. It is in fact a religion practiced by millions of Americans. Imagine if he called Christianity a toxic ideology. Now, he says he opposes the Muslim ban on entrance to the United States, but when Donald Trump proposed that, he stood up and opposed a resolution introduced here in the Senate to keep religion out of immigration decision.

On Women’s rights, now, he says that grabbing women’s genitals is sexual assault. But when Donald Trump’s tape recorded bragging about his doing precisely that was made public, Sen. Sessions said, and I quote, “I don’t characterize that as a sexual assault.” That’s a stretch. When he voted against extending the hate crimes law to crimes motivated by gender and sexual orientation, he said, and I quote, “I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it.” Well if you don’t see discrimination, you can’t very well enforce the laws against discrimination.

On torture, he now says that torture - waterboarding is illegal. But he praised Michael Mukasey (sp?) for not ruling out waterboarding. And he opposed Sen. McCain’s amendment, which was designed to make it clear that waterboarding was illegal.

On criminal justice, he is an outlier, departing even with many of his Republican colleagues who seek to make the criminal justice system more fair and less harsh.

If someone applying to intern for one of your offices had as many questions in his record as Sen. Sessions has: racist comments, unethical conduct, padding of his resume, you would not hire him -- absent the most thorough investigation and inquiry, if then. Sen. Sessions is not seeking to be an intern. He’s nominated to be the most powerful law enforcement officer in the nation.

The Senate and, more importantly, the American people deserve satisfactory answers to these questions before Sen. Sessions is confirmed.

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