On November 18, 2016, President-Elect Donald Trump announced that Republican Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will be his nominee for Attorney General of the United States. Sen. Sessions has been a member of the Senate since 1997, and previously served as Alabama Attorney General and United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated then-U.S. Attorney Sessions to be United States District Judge in the Southern District of Alabama, but his nomination was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee and ultimately withdrawn.
As head of the Department of Justice and the nation’s top law enforcement official, the position of Attorney General is one of unparalleled power within the Executive Branch and has profound implications for civil rights. The Attorney General must “ensure the fair and impartial administration of justice to all Americans,” including by monitoring and enforcing Americans’ constitutional and civil rights. It is therefore essential that any nominee’s record on civil rights is thoroughly and closely scrutinized before confirmation to this position of extraordinary public trust and firmly opposed if that record indicates a lack of commitment to the constitutional principles of fairness, equality and the rule of law.
This report is an initial overview of Sen. Sessions’s record on civil rights throughout his career, including: legislative votes; his statements on civil rights issues and organizations that advocate for civil rights; his record as a federal prosecutor; votes and statements on nominations, which form a substantial part of Sen. Sessions’s record as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and testimony from the 1986 Judiciary Committee hearing on Sen. Sessions’s nomination to be a district court judge.