Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions Is Lying Through His Teeth if He Says He’ll Protect Women’s Rights
Senate confirmation hearings aren’t exactly known as bastions of transparency. Actual honesty from nominees about personal beliefs and motivations is nonexistent, despite the fact that those are precisely what the Senate and citizens are hoping to discern from the hearing in the first place. Nominees have long understood that there are simple rules they must follow to avoid any fuss: Ambiguously affirm what everyone wants to hear, and leave all specifics out of it. Don’t get pinned down, and don’t piss anyone off. In short be as noncommittal as possible, and just keep blithely vowing to uphold the law.
Today’s hearing for Jeff Sessions’ nomination to serve as Attorney General of the United States is the Platonic ideal of that totally absurd idea. Sessions, whose nomination has been vigorously opposed by huge swaths of society, was denied a seat as a federal judge in 1986 after colleagues testified that he had used the n-word in the past and that he’d called the ACLU “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.” In fact his nomination has been so contentious that another sitting senator, Democrat Cory Booker, will be testifying against him at the hearing—an unprecedented move. There’s a lot of gas for senators to throw on the garbage fire that is his nomination, but so far he’s toed the line—especially on women’s issues.
Don’t be fooled. Read between the lines, and take even a cursory look at Sessions’ past, and you’ll see that he’s no friend to women.
He Doesn't Seem Too Concerned With Helping Victims of Human Trafficking
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein started her questions with the fact that sex trafficking is currently the second largest criminal enterprise in the United States and asked if Sessions would “ensure funds are not denied to service providers who assist victims of human trafficking in obtaining services they need—including abortion—if that is what is required for a young girl impregnated during this horrific abuse?”
Sessions’ reply: “It’s a very important issue,” but this is “not so much a matter for the Attorney General.”
What he really means: Sessions didn’t respond directly to the question—which was really about the Hyde Amendment, the rule that bans federal funds from being used for abortion care. He offered some milquetoast agreement that of course sex trafficking is bad and then went on to find a way to distance himself from the matter. He gave every indication that sex trafficking—which the State Department has estimated involves anywhere from 14,500 to 17,500 victims in this country annually and was determined to be a $32 billion enterprise globally—isn’t something he’ll spend much time worrying about.
He Really, Really Hates Abortion
Feinstein then noted that Sessions has “referred to Roe v. Wade as ‘one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time’ ” and asked if he still held this view.
Sessions’ reply: “It is. I believe it violated the Constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law. It is the law of the land. It’s been settled and settled for a long time. It deserves respect, and I would respect it and follow it.”
What he really means: On its face, Sessions’ reply could be misconstrued as heartening for reproductive-rights advocates. It sounds like he’s saying that he is personally against Roe v. Wade but willing to accept and follow the law. Except, by using the term “unconstitutional,” what he’s really saying is that it exists as current law, but that it's ripe for dismantling. And, as Attorney General, Sessions would serve as the chief law enforcement officer for the nation. Hmm.
Just Because He Voted for the Violence Against Women Act Doesn't Mean He Has a Good Record on Violence Against Women
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Nevada, noted that some Democratic senators had accused Sessions of not supporting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—the 1994 law that provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women; supports work to end stalking, sexual abuse, and domestic abuse; and allowed women to sue their attackers in federal court, among other crucial things. He asked, “Am I right that you supported reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act?”
Sessions’ reply: “Absolutely. I supported it in 2000 when it passed. I supported it in 2005…and then in this cycle Senator Grassley had a bill that I thought was preferable, and I supported his bill that actually had tougher penalties than the other bill. And it’s kind of frustrating to be accused of opposing the Violence Against Women Act when I have voted for it in the past.”
What he really means: Senator Hatch is absolutely correct: Many Democrats have “accused” Sessions of opposing VAWA, because it’s true. Sessions voted against VAWA three times. His reply hid the truth: By recalling that he voted for VAWA in 2000 and 2005, Sessions avoided a conversation about the 2012-2013 battle over the law, in which some Republicans reversed their support after it was revealed that the new authorization would include special provisions for LGBT victims. Twenty-three other Republican senators voted for the reauthorization—indicating that Sessions’ decision was a personal one, not a party prerogative.
What’s more, Session’s record on defending victims of sexual crimes is appalling. He voted against the 2009 Hate Crimes Bill, vociferously denouncing the inclusion of rape as a hate crime and failing to recognize that rape may in fact be the nation’s most common hate crime, saying, "That could give federal jurisdiction, for the first time in history, to every rape that occurs in America." He also voted against a 2001 bill that would have expanded the definition of potential hate-crime victims to include gender and sexual orientation.
When asked about Trump’s infamous, caught-on-tape comments that he had grabbed women “by the pussy,” Sessions also told the Weekly Standard that he doesn’t “characterize that as sexual assault” and thinks that definition of Trump's behavior is "a stretch.” He then went on to claim that it’s “not clear” to him how "[a man putting his hand between a woman’s legs and squeezing] would occur,” indicating that he is perhaps woefully undereducated on human anatomy. Today at the hearing he changed his tune, telling Senator Patrick Leahy that grabbing a woman by the genitals is "clearly" sexual assault. But what's unclear is how a grown, educated adult would ever have doubted such a thing in the first place.
Just yesterday the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence submitted a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees Sessions’ hearing, asking them to reject his nomination based on his inability to serve as an advocate for victims.
And serving as an advocate for victims is one of the leading roles of the Attorney General. His job demands that, politics aside, he zealously seek justice for any and all victims. Sessions' record, no matter what he says to get himself sworn in for this job, indicates that if you're a woman seeking the protection of the law, you'll be terrifying underserved by this man.
Glamour / Hillary Kelly / January 10, 2017