Today the Senate confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who has a long anti-LGBT, antichoice record, as U.S. attorney general — the nation’s top law enforcement official and head of the Department of Justice.
The 52-47 vote on Sessions was almost completely along party lines, reports The New York Times. Every Republican senator voted to confirm Sessions, except the nominee himself, who voted “present.” Every Democrat voted against him, except Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who voted to confirm. Independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who both caucus with the Democrats, voted against him.
Sessions, who has been a U.S. senator since 1997 and was previously Alabama’s attorney general and a federal prosecutor, was one of Donald Trump’s most controversial Cabinet nominees. Sessions has opposed marriage equality, LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes laws, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the latest (and LGBT-inclusive) version of the Violence Against Women Act, and other progressive measures. He is deeply opposed to abortion rights and immigration reform, and hehas come under fire for his prosecution of voting rights activists in Alabama. He has been accused of making racist statements — something that derailed his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986, and something he has denied.
During his confirmation hearings, Sessions said he would uphold the rights of all Americans, but LGBT and other civil rights groups are skeptical. Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, issued a statement calling his confirmation “a travesty.” “The chief lawyer of the United States is now someone who has devoted his whole life to obstructing civil rights,” she continued, adding, “I have personally seen him be rude and dismissive toward LGBT families.”
Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, said the confirmation vote “marks a profoundly sad day for justice in our country,” and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, dubbed it “a grave mistake.” Added Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality: “Today is a deeply distressing day for civil rights.”
People for the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker tied Sessions’s confirmation to the upcoming hearings on Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court justice: “Today’s vote significantly raises the stakes as the Senate considers Neil Gorsuch. It’s clear that Jeff Sessions will be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump’s illegal, unconstitutional agenda. It’s more important than ever that we have an independent Supreme Court that will stand up for the rule of law.”
The activists all said they would be watching Sessions closely, along with the senators who voted to confirm him. Keisling said she hopes Sessions will meet with and get to know transgender people. But the groups all promised action, including lawsuits, if he threatens anyone’s rights. “If he violates the Constitution, we’ll sue,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted.
Right-wing groups, undoubtedly happy that Sessions had been confirmed, were slower to respond to the news. However, Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, a former U.S. senator from South Carolina, posted a congratulatory statement on the group’s website. He called the confirmation process “needlessly contentious” and denounced Sessions’s opponents for “unseemly and groundless attempts to besmirch this good man’s character.” National Rifle Association executive director Chris W. Cox also released a statement lauding Sessions’s confirmation, saying, “He will make America a safer place by prosecuting violent criminals while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”