Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. attorney general, was sworn in Thursday morning, the culmination of a lengthy and combative confirmation period in which critics accused the senator of having a racist and homophobic voting record.
Sessions was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-47 vote Wednesday, with only a single Democrat — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin— joining Republicans in approval.
Wade Henderson, president the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said afterward the appointment was a “grave mistake.”
“Sessions’ hearing and record of failing to uphold America’s ideals of justice and equality for all show he is unfit to be our nation’s top law enforcement official,” Henderson said in a statement issued after the confirmation. “He has no place leading our nation’s enforcement of civil rights and voting rights laws or implementing our nation’s desperately needed reforms to policing.”
The confirmation came after civil rights advocates delivered a flash drive of over one million petition signatures to the Senate in a final attempt to block Session’s nomination.
Civil rights groups have harshly criticized Sessions’ nomination, arguing that he has been hostile to federal anti-discrimination and voting-rights law. Six members of the NAACP, including president Cornell Brooks, were arrested after staging a sit-in at Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama, office.
Various organizations helped collect the signatures including, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, UltraViolet, Color of Change, Friends of the Earth, Voto Latino and Asian-Americans Advancing Justice.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Free Press, Rock the Vote, Daily Kos, Common Cause, the Center for American Progress, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Faith in Public Life, Move On also helped to collect signatures.
“Jeff Sessions has a 30-year record of racial insensitivity, disregard for the rule of law and hostility toward the protection of civil rights,” Henderson said. “The Justice Department has the responsibility to protect the rights and liberties of all Americans.
“For decades, Jeff Sessions has proved that he is not up to the job,” Henderson said. “Senator Sessions has built his Senate career as an opponent of immigrants, the LBGT community, women, people with disabilities and people of color.”
In recent weeks, Sessions’ commitment to civil rights had been called into question.
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week that Republicans attempted to revise history and “recast [Sessions] as a civil rights champion.”
“I know Senator Sessions. We served together since I joined this body … and I know his record on voting rights,” Franken said. “He’s no champion of voting rights.”
Sessions listed several civil rights cases as some of the “10 most significant litigated matters” he had “personally handled” on the questionnaire.
“It is my understanding that United States v. Conecuh County was the first voter suppression lawsuit ever instituted by the United States Justice Department of Justice. I am honored to have been a part of it,” Sessions wrote of one listed case.
“He called the Voting Rights Act intrusive and complained about states with history of discrimination being subject to preclearance,” Franken pointed out of Sessions’ committee questionnaire. “But here you seem to be trumpeting his personal involvement in three voting rights cases and one school desegregation case.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein critiqued Sessions’ legislative history to protect LBGT rights, pointing out that in 2006 Sessions voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the country and voted against legislation to allow LGBT citizens to serve in the military.
As the attorney general, Sessions will head the U.S. Justice Department, and occupy the nation’s top law enforcement job.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut accepted the signatures from the civil rights activists calling for the Senate to reject the Sessions nomination.
“At a time when our rights and liberties are threatened, and they have never been more threatened than right now, we need a champion of [American] core rights and principles,” said Blumenthal, who opposed the nomination. “Let no one doubt that whatever the form of these petitions, they will have tremendous weight on this process.”