the recent announcement that Justice David Souter will retire from
the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama must now find a replacement.
And over the next four years - eight years if there is a second
Obama term - the president has the opportunity to shape the federal
courts to reflect 21st century realities. Much damage has been done
in the judiciary under the Bush administration. In his attempts
to create an enduring legacy of radical conservatism on the bench,
the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue stacked the federal
courts with corporate shills, Christian Taliban and torture enablers.
With only one woman on the Supreme Court, seven White
men, and a Black justice who is the functional equivalent of a conservative
White man, the high court does not look like modern-day America.
Now with the winds of change blowing, there is a fighting chance
that diversity - of backgrounds and life experiences, of gender,
of ethnicity, of opinion, of law schools, and the like - will be
a factor in the shaping of the court. Times must change. As someone
who clerked for two African-American judges in the federal courts,
I can appreciate the value of diversity on the bench, of having
more than the usual “suspects” wielding the gavel.
But it seems unlikely that the ranking member of
the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions
(R-Alabama), feels the same way. Sessions, it should be noted, was
nominated by Reagan in 1985 to a federal judgeship, but was dinged
by the Senate. Sessions was a critic of the Voting Rights Act. He
had called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” groups that “forced
civil rights down the throats of people.” In addition, as a U.S.
attorney in Alabama, he reportedly called a Black assistant U.S.
attorney “boy”, and told him to “be careful what you say to white
folks.” As a federal prosecutor, Sessions engaged in a voter-fraud
witch-hunt against three Black civil rights workers, including a
former aide to Dr. King. Moreover, during a 1981 KKK murder investigation,
Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he “used
to think they [the Klan] were OK” until he found out some of them
were “pot smokers.”
As a senator, Sessions voted against expanding hate
crimes to include sexual orientation. Based on his
voting record, he has a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign
(he is anti-gay rights), a 7% rating from the NAACP (he is anti-affirmative
action), and a 20% rating from the ACLU (he is anti-civil rights).
And this is the person the Republicans have entrusted in a position
of leadership in this important committee in the Senate. It speaks
volumes about the GOP and the statement they are making here, particularly
when one considers Sessions’ association with anti-immigration,
White nationalist groups.
lawmaker with a solid
anti-immigration record, Sessions is criticized by immigrants’ rights groups
for his anti-immigration rhetoric, and for his close associations
with three organizations: the Federation
for American Immigration Reform
(FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has
as a hate group, notes that all of these organizations “were founded
and funded by John Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who
operates a racist publishing company and has written that to maintain
American culture, ‘a European-American majority’ is required.” He
has published writings by John Vinson, head of Tanton’s American Immigration Control
Foundation, and a devout White supremacist. Vinson has called for the secession of the
former Confederate states in order to racially and economically
has been a driving force in the White nationalist and anti-immigration
movements for years. His
organizations and associates have affiliations with skinheads, neo-Nazis,
Council of Conservative Citizens, the modern-day reincarnation of the White Citizens’
Councils, the “white-collar Klan” of the Jim Crow era. And
with financial support from the pro-eugenics Pioneer
Fund - also designated a hate
group whose members believe that Black people have
smaller brains and lower intelligence than Whites - Tanton has been able to infiltrate, and unfortunately
shape, the mainstream dialogue on immigration reform. And
sadly, the mainstream media have helped to legitimize his organizations.
Senator Sessions often quotes Tanton’s groups and
their sham reports, appears at their press conferences, and has
recognition and campaign
contributions from them. And this individual will be sitting in
judgment of nominees to the federal bench, including African Americans,
Latinos and other judges of color? In recent years, the Republican
Party has been reduced to a regional extremist party - all-White,
Christian fundamentalist, uneducated and racist. And apparently,
on judicial and criminal justice matters, Sessions is their standard
bearer, the end product of a thorough barrel-scraping process. This
is not surprising, but one must wonder what’s really going on here.
Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human
rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
These Times and Philadelphia
Independent Media Center. He blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne,
Kos, and Open Salon. Click
here to contact Mr. Love.