Rebecca Dickson, Reporter
One letter from Coretta Scott King changed the way the world perceives Attorney General Sessions (and those who support him) for good.
King’s 1986 letter was left unpublished and largely unknown until Jan. 10, when an anonymous source leaked the letter to The Washington Post.
King’s letter was in opposition to Sessions’ nomination to the federal court judge in Southern Alabama. King wished to write a letter to Senator Strom Thurmond, chairman of the Committee of the Judiciary and a known pro-segregationist. As King was unable to attend his hearing to express her thoughts, she wrote a letter in hopes that it would persuade those voting to not confirm Sessions. While King asked for the letter to be published in full, Thurmond refused.
In her letter, King cited several examples of why she felt Sessions was a terrible candidate for the position of federal court judge.
“Mr. Sessions has used the power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens to the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge,” King wrote. “From his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgement to be a federal judge.”
King referenced Sessions’ actions while he was still an attorney, where Sessions’ worked to unjustly punish people of color who sought to exercise their right to vote in Alabama.
In the mid-20th century, people of color were often unable to vote due to “literacy tests” which were purposely impossible to pass, despite having the legal right to vote. According to Ferris State University, tests included questions such as: “If it were proposed to join Alabama and Mississippi to form one state, what groups would have to vote approval in order for this to be done?” and “The only laws which can be passed to apply to an area in a federal arsenal are those passed by (blank) provided consent for the purchase of the land is given by the (blank).”
Sessions was in support of these policies as well as other segregationist policies in the Southern U.S.
“Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960s,” King said. “I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgement, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court.”
On Feb. 7. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Dem.) was set to speak in Sessions’ confirmation hearing of an even higher office: Attorney General. In her speech, Warren read some parts of King’s letter on the Senate floor.
While reading the letter, Warren was interrupted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Rep.). McConnell claimed Warren violated Article 19 of the Senate’s rules of debate. Specifically, McConnell claimed she violated section two which reads, “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Article 19, rule 2, was originally created over a century ago in order to stop fistfights on the Senate floor. McConnell was unjustified in using this rule against Warren- although technically allowed, the rule is rarely used. In the case of a Senate hearing, King’s letter is relevant and necessary to Sessions’ history.
Warren and King were silenced and punished for listing Sessions’ past erroneous actions against the citizenry of the U.S. In some of the darkest periods of the history of the U.S., Sessions’ was a key participant and supporter. Yet, according to McConnell, King’s historically accurate and notable letter was claimed to be unfit for discussion and worthy of limiting Warren’s and King’s free speech.
Section two of Article 19 shouldn’t have been used in this scenario. In order to fairly judge the character of a person for one of the most important positions appointed by the president, King’s letter is certainly relevant and important for state representatives to consider.
While McConnell may believe in alternative facts, actual, verifiable facts were found within the letter written by King. McConnell’s belief, along with many of his colleagues is that King’s letter was unjustly read in the presence of the senators. This alternative belief is horrifying and disgusting. Some may consider this equal to Thurmond’s actions in not publishing King’s letter. Both are actions which limit the voice of King.
While Warren was silenced, many other stepped forward. Four democratic senators read King’s letter in full to the Senate- none were silenced.
Although Warren spoke outside the Senate chambers later, her voice was still limited. McConnell’s actions, regardless of his reasoning behind it, attempted to withdraw attention to Warren’s points. However, it did the opposite.
A massive outcry came from thousands. #LetLizSpeak was trending on Twitter, and the letter was published on countless websites.
The fact that representatives of the citizenry of the United States could so easily silence one of their colleagues and the partner of one of the most revered civil rights leaders in the 20th century by claiming a violation of a an irrelevant rule is appalling and disgusting. To do so during Black History Month of all times is paradoxical and jaw dropping.
Although people’s opinions can change for the better, Sessions hasn’t once refuted his prejudiced beliefs.
In a 2015 interview with former executive of Breitbart News and current Chief Advisor Steven Bannon, Sessions said the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 (which favored White European immigrants while persecuting all others “slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through 1965 and created the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”
This refusal to refute these racist laws and policies is absolutely deplorable. The fact that despite this, a majority of the Senate confirmed Sessions is detestable.
Regardless, all have a duty to make their country better. There are some steps in particular students can take to stand up for justice and equality.
Students at Pierce College should make the effort to fight to maintain the rights of all students regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, national origin, disability, immigration status or other factors. By voting carefully and in accordance to an individual’s political beliefs, students may have their voice heard. Voting is the most impactful way of demonstrating an individual’s voice- by electing officials with views and beliefs that match up with the general population’s views and beliefs, the country will be run in ways that benefit those who vote.
For those who wish to get involved or who are ineligible to vote, students can get involved with local organizations which fight for equal rights. Most need volunteers, and people of all skill sets and skill levels can help. Some organizations looking for volunteers are Human Rights Watch, an organization that aims to protect the human rights of all people and Amnesty International, which fights for the rights of those who are having their rights violated by governments around the world.
Students can call, email or mail a letter to their representatives and express their views, regardless of political affiliation. By talking to representatives, they have a better idea of how to respond to bills and can advocate for students on a state or national level.
The only way that the United States can create a country that is truly welcome to all is through standing up for those – who for one reason or another – can’t speak for themselves. Those who are able have an obligation to their country and their fellow constituents to speak up for others and to help other have their voice heard.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost