ABC News: Jeff Sessions' 1986 Confirmation Hearing Tinged With Allegations of Racism


Two decades ago, Sessions, then a U.S. attorney from Mobile, Ala., appeared before the body as President Ronald Reagan’s nominee for the U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Alabama. The contentious hearing took place over four days, and ended with Sessions unable to overcome allegations of racist remarks and behavior, credited at the time with thwarting his bid.

The accusations came from fellow prosecutors and employees in his office. One, Gerry Hebert, then a trial attorney in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, who worked frequently with Sessions, testified that he told Sessions that a judge had called a white lawyer a “disgrace to his race” because he represented black clients.

“Well, maybe he is,” Sessions allegedly responded.

The length of the hearing -– roughly 21 hours of testimony -– underscored the complexity of the allegations being discussed. Even some of the committee’s chief witnesses, including Hebert, said they were conflicted in drawing larger conclusions about Sessions’ comments.

“I am troubled by the fact that there is an image based on statements that I have made that Mr. Sessions is a racist. I do no really know whether he is or he is not. I probably ought to know but I do not; I really cannot say,” Hebert said during his testimony. “He has made some comments that show racial insensitivity, but by the same token he has not let whatever philosophy he might have or the comments that he has made affect his ability to do the job as U.S. attorney and to help the Civil Rights Division.”

Despite his tempered criticism, Hebert appears to have a different opinion of Sessions 30 years later, with Sessions now having a longer record to scrutinize. Now the director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, Hebert offered unqualified criticism of his former colleague’s record on voting rights.

“As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions prosecuted black citizens on phony charges of 'voter fraud.' Sessions has also supported discriminatory voter ID laws based on the myth of widespread voter fraud, denied a continuing history of discrimination against minority voters in the South, and celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act, a law he will now be sworn to protect and enforce,” Hebert said.

Hebert’s current concerns are echoes of those of the members of the 1986 Senate Judiciary Committee, who voted against Sessions’ confirmation, including then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

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