Contra Jeff Sessions (On Justice and Righteousness)

In the summer of 1963 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a crowd of thousands who had come to Washington DC for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He articulated the frustrations and anger of the crowds in front of him when he said that they were carrying an overdue promissory note, a note that had been signed by the founding fathers, guaranteeing that all would be granted the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. King was speaking on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery. Lincoln had radically altered the nation’s own myth of origins, saying that “four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal.’” Four score and seven years, that is eighty seven years prior to the date of the Gettysburg address in 1863, brings us to 1776, when the United States was declared with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Lincoln bypassed the Constitution with its odious compromise about slavery, and declared that the origins of this country were rooted in equality.

King brought Lincoln’s words and, standing in front of the memorial to the lawyer from Illinois and facing the White House, laid those words and that promise out for all Americans to see. And he demanded that that promissory note be paid in full because he “refuse[d] to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

King’s great gift to the American people was the possibility of embracing a new creation story. Of writing the history of this country with the ink of freedom and not the blood of black men and women.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, it seemed that the country was embracing this new narrative, that the forces of Jim Crow’s evil kingdom were in retreat, and that the dream of all Americans being equal might be realized.

We know, of course that that never really happened. The irredentist forces of the Old South and the Jim Crow South made common cause to undermine and resist the path to freedom. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, named for his father and his grandfather, who was named for Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was a child of the South who answered the call to resist and undermine the ability of African-Americans in Alabama to exercise their right to vote. Sessions as US Attorney in Alabama led an unfounded prosecution of three black voter rights activists for legally helping elderly African-Americans to vote absentee—a practice widely used by white activists and white voters but never questioned or prosecuted. Of those charges that were not dismissed by the judge, the jury found the three civil rights activists not guilty. And so, Jeff Sessions’ political career was born in racism, and strengthening the structures of white supremacy.

However, this is not only about history. This is not only about the fact that Jeff Sessions was not confirmed as a judge because of the racist comments he had made. This is not only about the fact that during his long tenure in the Senate Sessions consistently voted against equal rights—that he

  • Voted NO on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Voted NO on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
  • Opposed Title X funding legislation, which supports contraception, breast cancer screening and other health services for low-income women.
  • Voted YES on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage
  • Voted NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes
  • Voted NO on setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities & women
  • Voted YES on ending special funding for minority & women-owned business

Our objection to confirming Sessions’ nomination as Attorney General, our fear of having Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General of the United States has to do with what his record says about his view of the country.

Sessions has consistently argued for stricter penalties and longer jail terms for drug crimes. He is a relentless drug warrior despite the fact that most scholars and politicians now recognize that the war on drugs has failed, and that the jail terms that are part of the war on drugs have led to the New Jim Crow—the mass incarceration which is bankrupting our States financially and morally. It is perhaps not a surprise that a son of the old Jim Crow supports the new Jim Crow. It is our duty, however, to say that the economic devastation, the harm to families and communities of color which are the legacy of mass incarceration must end. We will not stand idly by while a champion of these disgraced policies is put in charge of implementing them.

Jeff Sessions has consistently made common cause with the xenophobes who call for ZERO immigration, in order to ensure the hegemony of the white race—The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others. Sessions has approvingly quoted these white nationalists, who, not surprisingly are racists and antisemites and anti-Muslim bigots. He has attended their conventions and has lauded their ideas to the bigot ideologue in chief Steven Bannon, on Bannon’s radio show. The Senator was also among the first people to support Trump’s call for a ban on all Muslim immigration.

Sessions has been one of the fiercest opponents of immigration reform. At a time when it is only the stop-gap measure of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which keeps 700,000 undocumented immigrants who come to this country as minors, relatively safe; at a time when Trump has said that he wants to—as a start—deport 3 million undocumented immigrants; we cannot let Jeff Sessions, who is party to this same nativist view of America to be in charge of the enforcement of these laws.

If we are looking for a justice department which sees its job as being the voice of the voiceless, the protector of the marginal, and the defender of the defenseless—we cannot abide the appointment of Jess Sessions, a product of the old Jim Crow and a supporter of the new Jim Crow to lead that department.

The Rabbis teach us that judges must follow and interpret the law, but beyond that they must “follow the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov. 2:20) A person who is responsible for the effective and fair disposition of justice must see beyond the details of the law to the paths of the righteous. Maimonides, the great 12th century Arab-Jewish philosopher teaches us that imitating God means acting in the way of “mercy, justice, and righteousness on earth.” In the Jewish tradition “justice”/tzedek is one of the names of God. The rabbis explain that the reason that the word justice is repeated in the verse “Justice, justice, shall you pursue” is to teach us that when justice is done on earth then justice is done in Heaven.

As the rabbis teach: one who judges truthfully is a partner with God in Creation.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has proven time and again that he is not up to the task, that he will not judge truthfully, that he does not seek the path of the righteous. We must say loud and clear, here and now and also in the halls of Congress that we will demand that the promissory note of the founding fathers be cashed in full; that we will create a more perfect union based on the principle that “all people are created equal,”; that we will give no quarter to prejudice or hatred; that we will not go back; and we will not support the nomination of Jeff Sessions and his dystopic vision of our country.

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Sources

Stephen Pigott, “Jeff Sessions: Champion of Anti-Muslim and Anti-Immigrant Extremists,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

Adam Serwer, “Jeff Sessions’s Unqualified Praise for a 1924 Immigration Law,” The Atlantic

Seung Min Kim and Josh Gerstein, “What Jeff Sessions thinks about immigration, police and terrorism,” Politico.com

Taking Action:

Call your senator right now and demand that they vote against the Sessions nomination. You can use this handy tool to find their phone numbers.

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