Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, attempted to prevent an LGBT conference from taking place at the University of Alabama when he was that state’s attorney general.
The revelation from CNN’s KFile investigative team adds to Sessions’s lengthy anti-LGBT record. The Republican has racked up mostly zeroes on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard for his time in the U.S. Senate, and his actions throughout his career show hostility to the rights of LGBT people, racial minorities, and women.
His campaign against the LGBT conference came in 1996. As Alabama’s attorney general, “Sessions attempted to stop the Southeastern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual College Conference from meeting at the University of Alabama under a state law passed in 1992 that made it illegal for public universities to fund in any way a group that promotes ‘actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws,’” CNN reports. The case was widely covered by local media at the time, and KFile reviewed the media reports as well as court filings.
Fob James, then the state’s governor, believed the conference would violate the law. Sessions initially said he was unsure if it did, but he then wrote a letter to the university’s president giving his legal opinion that it would be in violation and should be canceled.
University officials said they intended to let the conference go on, as to cancel it based on content would go against the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents government from interfering with free speech. Sessions then said he might try to get a court order to block the event, but soon after he made that statement, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson struck down the law on which Sessions was basing his argument, declaring it unconstitutional.
Sessions pledged to appeal the ruling and seek a stay on it. “I intend to do everything I can to stop that conference,” he told reporters at the time. Thompson, however, “reiterated his opinion that the conference could not be stopped,” CNN reports. Sessions then argued that he sought simply to monitor the event for possible violations of state law, but Thompson refused to put his ruling on hold.
So Sessions had to give up, and his efforts appeared to backfire — the conference drew more people than organizers had expected. “It was probably better attended than it would have been,” organizer Cathy Lopez Wessel told CNN.
“What really struck me was that this seemed clearly to be about free speech and peaceable assembly,” she added. “I feel like Jeff Sessions used the full power of his office position to deny a student group the right to have a conference.”
Later that year, Sessions was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has opposed marriage equality, LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation, and other progressive causes. But a federal appeals court upheld Thompson’s ruling on the Alabama law, so it has been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Sessions must be confirmed by the Senate in order to become U.S. attorney general. The body does have a slight Republican majority, but because of Sessions’s extreme right-wing views, he may well face a tough confirmation fight.