My Turn: Why Flake should withdraw his support of Sessions

Daniel Ortega: A vote for Jeff Sessions is an endorsement of this country’s unraveling civil rights protections.

Our country’s attorney general is meant to be the “people’s lawyer,” someone who protects the civil liberties of all Americans and acts as the country’s head law-enforcement officer.

But President-elect Donald Trump announced recently that his pick for attorney general would be Sen. Jeff Sessions — a man with an appalling record on civil rights and immigration and a history of overtly racist statements. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake announced his support the very same day. That he will support the nomination of someone so unfit to be attorney general is a disappointing betrayal of the constituents who depend on our senators to represent us and defend our civil rights.

Look at Sessions’ appalling record

A look at Sessions’ record leaves no room for uncertainty about the kind of attorney general he would be.When Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986, he was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee after hearings exposed his record of opposition to civil rights and accusations that he had made racist remarks to those he worked with.

Former colleagues of Sessions reported that he had called a black attorney “boy” and described a white lawyer as a “disgrace to his race” because of his work on voting rights. Sessions had recently unsuccessfully prosecuted African-American organizers for their work to register and engage voters in black communities, and had reportedly accused the ACLU and NAACP of forcing “civil rights down the throats of people.”

Since then, his actions as a U.S. senator have shown that this hostility to civil rights was not a past wrong that he has since turned away from, but rather the way he continues to approach his work. When the Supreme Court gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 Shelby County decision, Sessions celebrated the ruling as “good news.”

In the same year, he voted against re-authorization of legislation aimed at ending sexual assault and domestic violence.

How could Flake not know about this?

Sessions is one of the most ardent opponents of immigration reform in the Senate, not only voting against such legislation but also creating a “handbook” to bolster Republican efforts to block immigration reform and supporting even a drastic reduction of legal immigration. He has stated that “almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming because they have a skill that would benefit us.”

The Alabama senator has questioned the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship and partnered with extreme anti-immigrant groups connected to white nationalist John Tanton.

So when Flake, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will support Sessions’ nomination, was it because he somehow did not know about Sessions’ record as a foe of fundamental civil rights? Or because he simply doesn’t care? The former would be irresponsible, the latter shameful.Sessions was too extreme to be confirmed as a judge thirty years ago, and he’s too extreme to be put in control of the department that is supposed to protect the rights that he has shown such hostility toward. There is a reason that alt-right white supremacists are celebrating the president-elect’s choice.

That Flake immediately offered his support shows he has bought into — or does not have the backbone to stand up against — Trump’s apparent plan to fill his cabinet with civil rights opponents.Flake should immediately rescind his support for Sessions’ nomination. Anything less amounts to an endorsement of the unraveling of civil rights protections in our country, especially for the most marginalized among us.

Daniel R. Ortega Jr. is an attorney and community leader in Phoenix. Email him at danny@ortegalaw.com; follow on Twitter, @DanielROrtegaJr.