The confirmation hearings for Cabinet and other high-position nominees, of and by any president, must be fair but robust. The questions put to the nominee must be tough but just. But sometimes confirmation hearings can become what Clarence Thomas, who survived a mean and unjust hearing to become a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, called “a high-tech lynching.”
Such a lynching is what some on the left have prescribed this week for Jeff Sessions, nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the U.S. attorney general. The Sessions antagonists have combed through his record, both as a U.S. senator and before that at as the U.S. attorney in Mobile, Ala., as they should. Fair enough.
But some of these antagonists are determined not to settle for “tough but just.” Sniffing a “high-tech lynching” in the air, they want at least a smear. They’re determined to paint Mr. Sessions, a quiet soft-spoken man of elfin appearance and unfailing courtliness in dealing with everyone black and white, as the reincarnation of a wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. They cite an ironic, joking reference to the Klan as their only proof.
But the case that the NAACP and others post against the nominee is his prosecution of a 1985 voting-fraud indictment of black defendants in rural Perry County, Alabama. The defendants were accused of intimidating black voters. It was a case of black vs. black.
Artur Davis, who once represented the 7th congressional district of Alabama in Congress, which included Perry County, told the Montgomery Advertiser four years ago that “the truth is that the most aggressive contemporary voter suppression in the African-American community, at least in Alabama, is the wholesale manufacture of ballots, at the polls and [with] absentee, in parts of the black belt [counties].”
It was this abuse of the black vote, by black officials, that Mr. Sessions as the U.S. attorney was trying to correct. In the event, he lost the case. The verdicts in criminal cases, particularly in rural counties where family is often pitted against family, are sometimes determined more by loyalties of kin than by evidence presented in court.
Nevertheless, Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr., the son of defendants in that case nearly 40 years ago, this week endorsed Jeff Sessions in a lengthy tribute. “I have known Senator Sessions for many years,” he said, “beginning with the voter fraud case in Perry County in which my parents were defendants. My differences in policy and ideology with him do not translate to personal malice. He is not a racist. As I have said before, at no time then or now has Jeff Sessions said anything derogatory about my family.
“He was a prosecutor at the federal level with a job to do. He was presented with evidence by a local district attorney that he relied on, and his office presented the case. That’s what a prosecutor does. I believe him when he says he was simply doing his job. I believe that he is someone I and others in the civil-rights community can work with if given the opportunity.”
The Sessions nomination is further supported by President Obama’s former surgeon general, the Democratic leader in the Alabama state Senate and others, blacks all.
Monday morning a group of black pastors from Alabama will hold a press conference at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill to endorse Jeff Sessions. The senator’s record is by all reliable accounts unsullied by harsh and racist sentiments. Many black Alabamians, who know him far better than his critics in faraway places, emphatically say so.
They are determined, like other friends of the true and the just, that this smear of a good man will not work.