Opinion: Just when I was forgetting Jeff Sessions’ record as a prosecutor....


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Earlier this week, Times Senior Editorial Writer Michael McGough attributed the casual use of the ‘R’ word after the Sonia Sotomayor nomination to confusion over what exactly constitutes racism. In the case of Sen. Jeff Sessions, however, the Republican senator from Alabama is using that confusion to scrub his own, dare I say, 100% verifiable history of conducting race-based prosecutions.

After meeting with Supreme Court justice nominee, Sessions said he could identify with Sotomayor’s frustration over false accusations of racism because he, too, faced such embarrassment 23 years ago. That’s when his nomination (by President Reagan) to be a U.S. District Court judge was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- the panel where he now serves as the top-ranking Republican:


‘That is a very odd thing,’ Sessions told CNN in an interview in his Senate office. ‘Somebody says it gives new meaning to the word irony.’

Here’s CNN’s recap:

In 1986, Sessions was a 39-year-old U.S. attorney in Alabama. His nomination to be a U.S. District Court judge was troubled from the start because of controversy surrounding his prosecution of civil rights activists for voting fraud.

Sessions’ fate was sealed after Democrats called several witnesses who accused him of a pattern of racial insensitivity -- including calling a black lawyer ‘boy’ and civil rights groups such as the NAACP ‘un-American.’

Sessions still gets visibly upset when he hears those charges.

‘That was not fair. That was not accurate. Those were false charges and distortions of anything that I did, and it really was not. I never had those kinds of views, and I was caricatured in a way that was not me,’ Sessions said.

Puh-leaze. ‘Irony’ and ‘distortions’ would be an apt assessment if, say, a few off-color remarks and Sessions’ opposition to affirmative action were misused by his opponents to tar him a racist. But the behavior that led people to accuse Sessions of racism was far more revolting: He harnessed his powers as a federal prosecutor to make it difficult for African Americans to vote. In 2002, the New Republic -- which has a record of examining accusations of racism leveled against rising-star pols -- re-hashed the senator’s troubled history of prosecuting civil rights workers in his days as a U.S. attorney in Alabama:

The year before his nomination to federal court, he had unsuccessfully prosecuted three civil rights workers--including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr.--on a tenuous case of voter fraud. The three had been working in the ‘Black Belt’ counties of Alabama, which, after years of voting white, had begun to swing toward black candidates as voter registration drives brought in more black voters. Sessions’ focus on these counties to the exclusion of others caused an uproar among civil rights leaders, especially after hours of interrogating black absentee voters produced only 14 allegedly tampered ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in the 1984 election. The activists, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted in four hours and became a cause celebre. Civil rights groups charged that Sessions had been looking for voter fraud in the black community and overlooking the same violations among whites at least partly to help reelect his friend Senator [Jeremiah] Denton.


I don’t think ‘irony’ is the right word.