WASHINGTON ― Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions lamented Tuesday that some people have accused him of being racist, guessing it’s been a theme in his career in part because of where he’s from and because of his formal name: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.
“You have a Southern name. You come from south Alabama,” he said during his Senate confirmation hearing. “That sounds worse to some people, south Alabama.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was among the senators on the Judiciary Committee asking Sessions questions, gave the attorney general nominee the chance to respond to his critics on this front. Graham said he felt for him.
“I’m from South Carolina, so I know what it’s like sometimes to be accused of being a conservative from the South,” he said. “That means something other than you’re a conservative from the South, in your case. People have fairly promptly tried to label you as a racist or a bigot or whatever you want to say.”
But there are substantive reasons that Sessions, who was Alabama’s attorney general and is now a U.S. senator, is taking heat on civil rights. He supported gutting the Voting Rights Act in 2013. He has a record of blocking black judicial nominees. He unsuccessfully prosecuted black civil rights activists for voter fraud in 1985 ― including a former aide to Martin Luther King, Jr. A year later, he was rejected for a federal judgeship over allegations he called a black attorney “boy,” suggested a white lawyer working for black clients was a race traitor and referred to civil rights groups as “un-American” and trying to “force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.”
Sessions denied Tuesday that he’s ever been racist. “I did not harbor the kind of animosity and race-based discrimination ideas I was accused of,” he said. “I did not.”
He also tried to explain what went wrong with his failed judicial bid.
“I didn’t prepare myself well in 1986. And there was an organized effort to caricature me as something that wasn’t true. It was very painful. I didn’t know how to respond and didn’t respond very well,” Sessions said. “I hope my tenure in this body has shown you that the caricature that was created of me was not accurate. It wasn’t accurate then and it’s not accurate now.”
The Judiciary Committee is holding Sessions’ hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. He is expected to be confirmed.