Donald Trump’s attorney general pick, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, occupied cable news screens for several hours on Tuesday as his confirmation hearings met instant controversy. The proceedings saw near-constant disruptions by anti-racism protesters, to which Sessions wore a perpetually silly grin. Much of Sessions’ notoriety traces back to 1986 rejection for a federal judge position after it emerged that he cracked a KKK joke.
The “joke” is a simplified explanation for why Sessions didn’t receive his desired judicial position. In actuality — and much like this year, which has has seen a NAACP sit-in protest at Sessions’ Alabama office — a protest occurred. Both Buzzfeed and Washington Post point to a letter from Coretta Scott King (the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.), who urged Congress not to “irreparably damage” her late husband’s legacy by confirming Sessions.
30 years later, history has an odd way of repeating itself. Here are a few excerpts from King’s letter, which revolves around Sessions “politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions” and an improper temperament for a lifetime appointment to the bench:
“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts … Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
“The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods. I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”
Indeed, the Voting Rights Act also came up in Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing, and it’s expected to be a big subject again on Wednesday, when a civil rights legend, Congressman John Lewis, takes the microphone. Senator Cory Booker will also reportedly zero in on the subject while testifying against Sessions, who is expected to nonetheless receive enough approval to ascend to the attorney general position. However, King’s words are not lost, and Lewis and Booker intend to keep them alive.