Coretta Scott King’s opposed Jeff Sessions in scathing letter
Earlier this week, Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter opposing Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to federal judgeship was made public.
Unable to attend the hearing on Sessions’ nomination that year, the widow of civil rights leader leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the letter to Sen. Strom Thurman, then-chairman of the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary.
The letter was not entered into the record, and had not been made public until Tuesday, when it was obtained by the Washington Post. (A link to the Post’s letter can be found on the Tribune website, at phillytrib.com).
Sessions is once again facing the Senate Judiciary Committee, this time for his nomination to become the next Attorney General under President-elect Donald Trump.
In her letter, King described Sessions as a man who lacked the temperament, fairness and judgement to be a federal judge.
“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly Black voters,” King wrote, referring to the time when Sessions prosecuted African-American organizers in Alabama for voter fraud. The defendants were acquitted after three hours of deliberation, according to The Washington Post.
“It is in my strongly-held view that the appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner, and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system,” King wrote.
Then-nominated by former president Ronald Reagan, Sessions was opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the People for the American Way.
Four Department of Justice lawyers who had previously worked with Sessions testified he made racially insensitive comments. One employee, J. Gerald Herbert specifically described an incident in which Sessions called the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” according to the magazine New Republic.
“Sessions acknowledged making many of the statements attributed to him but claimed that most of the time he had been joking, saying he was sometimes ’loose with [his] tongue,” wrote Sarah Wildman for New Republic.
The NAACP and the ACLU have both voiced their opposition to Sessions’ current nomination. Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., has testified against him, as well as Congressman John Lewis. Lewis, a Civil Rights leader alongside King’s husband, is the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.
With a Republican majority in the Senate, it is unlikely that Sessions will be denied the nomination unless a Republican defects.
King’s letter combined with the testimony during the confirmation hearings contributed to a 10-8 vote by the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary against recommending Sessions’ nomination to the Senate.
That was followed by a 9-9 vote to send his nomination to the Senate without a recommendation. Sessions was the second judicial nominee in 48 years to be rejected by the committee, according to The New York Times.
Coretta Scott King continued to have an influence in politics and culture after writing that letter. In the 1980s, she was on the front line of the anti-apartheid movement.
King traveled to South Africa and met Winnie Mandela. She revived her husband’s previous calls for economic sanctions against South Africa, which were eventually imposed by Reagan in 1986.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, King voiced her support for LGBT rights, voicing her opposition to President George W. Bush’s proposed amendment that prevented marriage rights to same-sex couples.
When Mrs. King died of respiratory failure in 2006, Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and an additional 10,000 people attended her funeral.