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12 Sets of Questions for Senators Who Support Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

As the excellent Indivisible Guide points out, it is essential for Americans to hold their leaders to account, especially when they make poor decisions. An especially poor decision by President-Elect Donald Trump has been to nominate Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. This week, as members of the Senate attempt to approve the nomination of Sessions with minimal hearings, it is important for Americans to turn out to Senators’ national and local offices and demonstrate with their bodies how deep and wide the opposition to the Sessions nomination really is.

One point of concern for people turning out to their senators’ offices is a feeling of intimidation. When approaching one of the 100 most powerful legislators in the United States, what exactly should I say? I certainly don’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth, but to help get the ball rolling in that regard I’d like to share the set of questions that I’ve drawn up for my own senator as I participate in a local visit to a senator’s office.

If you find these questions helpful, you’re welcome to borrow and adapt them to your own uses, adding and substituting your own language as you feel is appropriate to your situation. Be sure to check out the linked sources to verify the claims made in these questions; we’re an empirical movement, after all.


Questions for Senators Regarding the Nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

As provided by Title 28, Chapter 31, Section 503 of the U.S. Code, the Attorney General is the head of the Department of Justice, the top law enforcement officer, and the highest-ranked lawyer representing the United States Government in legal matters. All those subject to the laws of the United States, all those with the potential to be victimized by crime, and all those affected by the criminal justice system stand to be strongly affected by the inclinations, the approach, and the decisions of an Attorney General.  Less powerful members of society, and members of groups that have historically not been treated equally under the law, have a special cause for concern regarding the potential behavior of an Attorney General.  Patterns of past behavior, records of policy stances, and the level of empathy for others demonstrated by any nominee for Attorney General are therefore highly relevant.

As citizens of [State], we have been dismayed to read this week in the newspapers that Senator [Name] has voiced an intention to vote for Jeff Sessions’ confirmation before a full vetting including hearings have taken place.  We interpret any move to actively support Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as an act to endorse Senator Sessions’ past record relevant to his potential position as Attorney General. We do not believe that a move to support a nominee with a troubling legal, policy and personal record is a fair representation of the values of [State] and its citizens.

A review of the documented past behavior and the long policy record of Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, leads to some unsettled questions.  As concerned constituents, we formally request that Senator [Name] answer these questions publicly, specifically, and in writing before deciding how to cast a vote regarding Senator Sessions’ confirmation.

 

Children

Children are among the least powerful of Americans and are often placed in harm’s way due to circumstances not under their control. The law plays an important role in protecting children, and an Attorney General should have a demonstrated track record of empathy for children in difficult situations.  Yet as a U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions voted against funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides health care for sick children in poor families.  Senator Sessions also voted to force families in poverty to absorb the costs of health care for their children.

Sources:

  • S.Amdt. 43 to S.Amdt. 39 to H.R. 2, 111th Congress
  • H.R. 2, 111th Congress, 111th Congress

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree with these actions by Jeff Sessions to take away health care from poor, sick children?
  • How is Jeff Sessions’ record of low empathy for poor, sick children compatible with the need for empathy toward the powerless by an Attorney General?

 

Legal Rights of the Accused

In the 111th Congress, Senator Jeff Sessions was a cosponsor of the bill S. 3081, which if passed would have granted the U.S. government power to imprison American citizens indefinitely in military facilities, without being read their Miranda rights, without criminal charges, without any trial, and without recourse to courts. One of three individuals given the power to place an American in this indefinite military detention under S. 3081 was the U.S. Attorney General.  Senator Sessions voted against an amendment to remove the same provisions from a bill in the 112th Congress.

Sources:

  • S.3081, 111th Congress
  • S.Amdt. 1126 to S. 1867, 112th Congress

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree with Jeff Sessions’ position on the policy proposal represented in S. 3081 of the 111th Congress and S.Amdt. 1126 to S. 1867 of the 112th Congress?
  • How is support for these provisions compatible with the responsibility of the U.S. Attorney General to protect the rights of the accused?

 

Racial Prejudice

One of the most important principles in American justice is equal protection under law. An Attorney General must therefore be an embodiment of support for equality, especially for groups of Americans who have been historically oppressed.  We are concerned to note that Jeff Sessions’ derogatory statements toward people of color and his record of opposition to the civil rights of Americans, as indicated in the following statements and actions:

  • “The National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and PUSH are un-American organizations with antitraditional American values.”
  • “You know the NAACP hates white people; they are out to get them. That is why they bring these lawsuits, and they are a commie group and a pinko organization as well.”
  • After referring to an African-American practicing attorney as “boy,” declaring that “You ought to be careful as to what you say to white folks.”
  • When asked whether a civil rights lawyer was a “traitor to his race,” responding “Well, maybe he is.”
  • False accusations and legal action against African-American civil rights activists for encouraging elderly African-Americans in his jurisdiction to vote.
  • Denial of the history of voter disenfranchisement in the South: “Shelby County has never had a history of denying voters.”
  • “the Democrat party places far too much emphasis on representing minorities such as homosexuals, people who don’t want to work, and people with a skin that’s any color but white.”

Sources:

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree with the statements made by Jeff Sessions as indicated above?
  • How do such statements by a person indicate that such a person is qualified to serve as Attorney General for all Americans?

 

Discrimination Against Women

Until the Lily Ledbetter Pay Act was passed, women were prohibited under law from filing suit against an employer for paying women less than men for the same work, under the loophole that women can only file suit within the first few months of being employed, even if they only become aware of discriminatory pay later. Gathering evidence of pay discrimination typically takes many months or even years, making such anti-discrimination lawsuits effectively unavailable to women.  The Lily Ledbetter Pay Act fixed this problem by closing the loophole, finally making it possible for women to remedy sex discrimination in court.  As Senator, Jeff Sessions voted against the Lily Ledbetter Pay Act.

Source:

  • S. 181, 111th Congress

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that women should be able to sue employers who engage in pay discrimination on the basis of sex?
  • How does a Senator acting to outlaw sex discrimination lawsuits qualify that Senator to serve as Attorney General for all Americans?

 

Equal Access to Women’s Health Services

Abortion and contraception are legal in the United States. Yet Jeff Sessions voted to prevent a contraceptive education program from being funded, voted to prohibit legal abortions from being obtained on military bases, and voted to make it easier for felons convicted of violence against abortion clinics to get rid of debts incurred as a result of their acts of violence. In the Senate, Jeff Sessions has refused to voice legal support for Roe v. Wade.  Further, Jeff Sessions voted to make it illegal for any organization receiving federal funding from even mentioning that abortion exists, is legal and is available to women.

Sources:

  • S.Amdt. 244 to S Con Res 18, 109th Congress
  • S. 2549, 106th Congress
  • S.Amdt. 2763 to S. 625, 106th Congress
  • S.Amdt. 2321 to S. 1692, 106th Congress
  • S.Amdt. 65 to H.R. 2, 111th Congress

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree with the policy positions made by Jeff Sessions as indicated above?
  • How does a record of opposition to equal access to legal health services and a record of support for violent felons against abortion providers qualify a person to serve as Attorney General for all Americans?

 

Violence Against Women

Throughout American history, women have been subject to violence on the basis of their status as women. Yet in 2013, Jeff Sessions voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. When President-Elect Donald Trump was caught on tape boasting that he had repeatedly grabbed women by the genitals without their permission, conservative publication The Weekly Standard asked Jeff Sessions, “beyond the language, would you characterize the behavior described in that (video) as sexual assault if that behavior actually took place?” Sessions’ reply: “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch. I don’t know what he meant.” When The Weekly Standard followed up with the question, “So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?” Sessions replied, “I don’t know. It’s not clear.”

Sources:

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that grabbing women by the genitals is sexual assault?
  • Does Senator [Name] support or oppose the Violence Against Women Act?
  • How does a record of opposition to the Violence Against Women Act qualify a person to serve as Attorney General?
  • How is opposition to the idea that grabbing women by the genitals is sexual assault a qualifying position for an Attorney General?

 

Separation of Church and State

Some of the most violent civil wars in the world have been fought over differences of religion, which is why the nation’s founders made separation of Church and State and prohibition of the establishment of religion the very first amendment to the United States Constitution. Yet as recently as 2016, Jeff Sessions declared his opposition to the First Amendment to the Constitution, stating in a speech on the floor of the Senate that “The Constitution says we shall not establish a religion — Congress shall not establish a religion. It doesn’t say states couldn’t establish a religion.”

Sources:

  • Congressional Record, March 20 2016, page S1430

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that state establishment of religion is constitutional?
  • How does support for the state establishment of religion qualify a person to hold the office of U.S. Attorney General?

 

Free Speech

It is a matter of settled constitutional law that while many Americans may find burning the U.S. flag to be a deeply distasteful mode of expression, it is nevertheless a form of protected political speech under U.S. law. Jeff Sessions has cosponsored legislation that would amend the U.S. Constitution to forbid acts of political speech that involve burning a flag.

Source:

  • S.J. Res. 19, 112th Congress

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that political speech should remain protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
  • How does opposition to freedom of political speech qualify a nominee to serve as U.S. Attorney General?

 

Search and Seizure Without Probable Cause Warrants

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution declares Americans to be free from search and seizure of our papers and communications unless there is a warrant specifying a reason, a time and a place for such search. The FISA Amendments Act violates all of these constitutional guarantees by allowing agents of the United States government to search through and seize anyone’s communications without obtaining any warrant describing a time, place or reason for the search.  In the 112th Congress, Jeff Sessions voted to reauthorize the FISA Amendment Act.  Also in the 112th Congress, Jeff Sessions voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act, which also allows for search and seizure of Americans’ records without probable cause warrants.

Sources:

  • H.R. 514, 112th Congress
  • H.R. 5949, 112th Congress

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that Americans should be free from search of seizure of our papers and communications unless a warrant has been obtained specifying a reason, time and place for such a search?
  • How is opposition to 4th Amendment protections compatible with qualification to serve as U.S. Attorney General?

 

Marriage Equality

As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution applies to the right to marry, guaranteeing same-sex couples the same access to marriage rights as different-sex couples. However, Jeff Sessions has repeatedly voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage equality, and has supported legislation to strip Americans of equal marriage rights as a cosponsor of S. 2024.

Sources:

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that same-sex marriage is protected under the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses?
  • How is opposition to equal protection under the law compatible with service as U.S. Attorney General?

 

Immigration: I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door

We are and always have been a nation of immigrants. In every generation, people with and without documentation speaking a variety of languages have entered the United States to live, work, build infrastructure, and raise new generations of American children. [Note: find similar research or position papers for your state here] The Maine Chamber of Commerce recently released a report indicating that without an influx of immigrants, Maine’s population and economy will shrink, hurting the state in the long run.  Immigrants enrich our society: according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, immigrants to America are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes than native-born Americans.  As a Senator, Jeff Sessions stands against the American tradition of immigration and immigrants, diversity, voting against a path to citizenship for “guest workers,” voting in support of large expenditures for a border wall, and voting repeatedly to require that English be the only official language used by the U.S. Government.

Sources:

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] support or oppose the spending of billions of dollars to build a border wall?
  • Does Senator [Name] support or oppose legislation to make English the only language for communication by the U.S. government?
  • Does Senator [Name] support or oppose a path to citizenship for immigrants to the United States under guest worker programs?
  • How does Senator [Name] believe the erection of legal barriers to immigration would affect the [State] economy in the future?
  • How would an Attorney General taking a constrictive stance on immigration law affect the [State] economy in the future?
  • How does Senator Sessions’ constrictive stance on immigration affect Senator [Name]’s level of support for his nomination as Attorney General?

 

Climate Change Law

According to available NASA and NOAA data, global temperatures are undeniably rising, with 2016 poised to be the hottest year on record in direct global temperature measurements.  Yet as Senator Jeff Sessions continues to question the existence of global warming and asserts that carbon dioxide emissions are not harmful. On a policy front, Jeff Sessions has voted against legal authority for the United States government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Sources:

Questions:

  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree that carbon dioxide emissions are potentially harmful?
  • Does Senator [Name] agree or disagree with Jeff Sessions that the U.S. government should be able to regulate carbon dioxide emissions?
  • How does Jeff Sessions’ legal position that the United States should not be able to regulate carbon dioxide emissions qualify him to serve as U.S. Attorney General?

One thought on “12 Sets of Questions for Senators Who Support Jeff Sessions for Attorney General”

  1. Kathleen Decker-Samuelian says:

    Thank you so much for this set of 12 questions!

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