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Hullabaloo


Friday, March 07, 2014

 
They ain't done yet. (The Jeff Sessions moment)

by digby

Adam Serwer has a nice piece up today providing some important context for the failureof President Obama's nominee to head the civil rights division, Debo Adegbile, to win a majority in a Democratic Senate. He characterizes the Democrats who voted against him as "frightened" but I'd characterize them as opportunists. They know which side their racist bread is buttered on. Times have changed, but not that much. "Law and order" isn't just a TV show --- it was one of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy slogans and it was all about keeping the you-know-whats in line. That's ultimately what was in play here. And there are, apparently, still enough Democrats who want to join that game still. Oh progress ...

But Serwer rightly points out that the attack on this nominee to head the civil rights division is part of another long term GOP strategy:
Republicans don’t just oppose Adegbile. They oppose the civil rights division itself. That’s a tremendous irony given that it was first established under a Republican president – over the opposition of many Southern Democrats.

Yet recently when a president of their own party has been in charge of the division, Republicans have sought to purge it of civil rights lawyers perceived as too liberal. Failing that, they’ve simply declined to zealously enforce civil rights laws. During the Obama administration, Republicans have painted the division as racist against white people, and came to the defense of predatory financial industry practices that helped drive the American economy to the brink of destruction.

Where they have been unable to hamper the civil rights division’s enforcement of civil rights laws, they have turned to the conservative majority on the Supreme Court to neuter the division by gutting the laws themselves.

During the George W. Bush administration, an internal Justice Department report found Bush appointees had attempted to purge the division of liberals, or as one Bush appointee Bradley Schlozman put it, “adherents of Mao’s little red book.” The report found that Schlozman, who had vowed to “gerrymander” all those “crazy libs” out of the division, replacing them with Republican loyalists, had violated civil service laws with his hiring practices. His colleagues saw it differently – the Voting Section chief at the time, John Tanner, complained that before Bush, one had to be a “civil rights person” to get hired in the division. Imagine.

Shortly after Obama took office, conservatives seized on a now-discredited conspiracy theory that the new administration had sought to protect the New Black Panther Party. They argued that “If you are white,” in the words of Bush-era Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky, “the Division won’t lift a finger to make sure you’re ‘protected.’”
There's more at the link. This strategy is designed to stoke the grievances of white people who are being screwed by society and the focus them on racial and ethnic minorities as the cause of all their woes. That along with this long term scheme to sabotage civil rights and suppress the vote along with the emergence of that old stand-by of "law and order" signals that there's still life in that old racist strategy yet. And this vote shows that there are still Democrats who are subject to being intimidated/seduced by it.

Apropos of nothing, I heard Fox's Brett Baier call this a "Jeff Sessions moment" the other day. I'm not entirely sure what he meant. On repeated viewing I realized it may not have meant what I thought it meant. But considering Jeff Sessions' history you can see why I might have been startled and thought the right wingers saw this as payback:
In 1986, Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions judicial nomination was recommended and actively backed by Republican Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton. A substantial majority of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which rates nominees to the federal bench, rated Sessions "qualified," with a minority voting that Sessions was "not qualified."

At Sessions' confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, four Department of Justice lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he had made several racist statements. One of those lawyers, J. Gerald Hebert, testified that Sessions had referred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as "un-American" and "Communist-inspired" because they "forced civil rights down the throats of people."

Thomas Figures, a black Assistant U.S. Attorney, testified that Sessions said he thought the Klan was "OK until I found out they smoked pot." Sessions later said that the comment was not serious, but apologized for it.[10] Figures also testified that on one occasion, when the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent the office instructions to investigate a case that Sessions had tried to close, Figures and Sessions "had a very spirited discussion regarding how the Hodge case should then be handled; in the course of that argument, Mr. Sessions threw the file on a table, and remarked, 'I wish I could decline on all of them,'" by which Figures said Sessions meant civil rights cases generally. After becoming Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, Sessions was asked in an interview about his civil rights record as a U.S Attorney. He denied that he had not sufficiently pursued civil rights cases, saying that "when I was [a U.S. Attorney], I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies."

Figures also said that Sessions had called him "boy." He also testified that "Mr. Sessions admonished me to 'be careful what you say to white folks.'"

Sessions responded to the testimony by denying the allegations, saying his remarks were taken out of context or meant in jest, and also stating that groups could be considered un-American when "they involve themselves in un-American positions" in foreign policy. Sessions said during testimony that he considered the Klan to be "a force for hatred and bigotry." In regards to the marijuana quote, Sessions said the comment was a joke but apologized.
In response to a question from Joe Biden on whether he had called the NAACP and other civil rights organizations "un-American", Sessions replied "I'm often loose with my tongue. I may have said something about the NAACP being un-American or Communist, but I meant no harm by it."
Just to show how much the nation has changed, here's a quote from Sessions during the Adegbile debate:
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions said, “The civil rights division must protect the civil rights of all Americans, it must not be used as a partisan tool to further the political agenda of any special interest groups, as too often has occurred in this administration in my opinion,” adding that “I do not believe the president’s nominee is therefore qualified, because I do not see the required degree of objectivity and balance that will be necessary.”
He didn't use the "n" word. He called African Americans a "special interest group." Progress.


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