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Nan Aron

Nan Aron

Posted May 11, 2009 | 04:10 PM (EST)

What Can We Expect Now that Sessions Leads Republicans on Judges?


With Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) switching to the Democratic Party, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has taken over as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He will lead the charge on the Republican response to Obama's judicial and executive branch nominations.

Who is Senator Sessions?

He's has been an outspoken opponent of the Voting Rights Act (though he did vote to extend it in 2006), immigration reform, embryonic stem cell research, and a woman's right to choose.

He has sided with the most conservative members of his party on foreign affairs, taxes and social legislation.

Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama by President Reagan in 1981 and served for 12 years. He achieved notoriety for prosecuting African Americans for vote fraud in 1984. The prosecutions ended in acquittals.

In 1986, President Reagan nominated him to a seat on the federal district court. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination and refused to report it to the full Senate. During the confirmation process, attorneys who had worked with Sessions testified that he had made comments that were racist and disparaging of civil rights groups. He praised Ku Klux Klan members, called the NAACP and ACLU "un-American" and "communist-inspired," called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race," and called an African American employee "boy." Sessions admitted making many of the statements, but said he was just joking.

Sessions was elected to the Senate in 1996 and took a seat on the Committee that had rejected his judicial nomination.

He has also been vocally opposed to the use of filibusters and in 2003 stated on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer "But they [the Democrats] blocked an up-or-down vote by carrying out the filibuster rule, and I think that's a very, very grim thing. It should not occur."

Though it remains to be seen whether Sessions statements on filibusters were truly about procedure rather than ensuring that nominees who shared his partisan political agenda were confirmed, he told The Hill on May 5, 2009 that he disagrees with the "Schumer standard" -- that he does not think judicial nominees should be evaluated based on their political views or ideology.

While Sessions' new role as ranking member on the Judiciary committee may mean that a filibuster is less likely, it certainly does not mean that it is off the table. We will have to wait and see how Sessions decides to act.

But let's keep in mind the real reason why Republicans in the Senate are trying to obstruct President Obama's nominations to the bench. President Obama has shown by his first appointments that he wants highly qualified judges who will uphold our Constitution and the law to provide equal justice and protect personal freedoms for everyone in America, not just a few.

The Supreme Court and Appeals Courts have been stacked in recent years with judges who rule based on their own political agenda that favors a few at the top instead of providing equal justice and protecting personal freedoms for all.

Republicans in the Senate enthusiastically supported that kind of judicial appointment. Now they are threatening to filibuster to prevent a majority vote on any nominee for judge who doesn't share that agenda. The American people can't let that happen. We can't continue to have judges who think there should be one set of rules for a few at the top and a different set for the rest of us.