The left has relentlessly attacked Sen. Jeff Sessions as a racist. Sessions’ Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle know the charge to be false, and African-Americans from his home state who know the Senator have refuted it.
Because the racism slander won’t fly, we’re now being told that Sessions is anti-LGBT. In support of this charge, critics cite what CNN calls “a public campaign as Alabama attorney general in 1996 to prevent a gay rights group from holding a conference at the University of Alabama.”
Actually, it was the University of South Alabama. More importantly, according to Alan Sears, the CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Sessions wasn’t trying to block funding for the conference as a whole, but only for a specific session of it — one aimed at teaching attendees how to perform homosexual acts.
What did Sessions’ “public campaign” consist of? It consisted mainly of litigation, conducted initially by Sessions’ Democratic predecessor, to uphold a state law that made it illegal for public universities in the state to provide funding to any group that promoted “actions prohibited by (the State’s) sodomy and sexual misconduct laws.”
It was, of course, Sessions’ job as Alabama attorney general to defend laws passed by the Alabama legislature. That’s what he did in the case of the gay rights group.
Sessions’ critics complain that after Alabama lost before a federal district court judge on First Amendment grounds, he vowed to appeal the adverse ruling and sought a stay of the court’s order pending appeal.
The district court declined to stay its order. Apparently, there was no appeal, and the conference took place as planned.
The steps Sessions took after the district court’s court’s initial ruling against his client are all normal things a losing party does in this context. Again, Sessions was simply doing his job.
In addition to pursuing a legal action, Sessions tried to persuade the University to cancel the conference. Such attempts at persuasion are basically an adjunct to litigation. This too was an attempt to defend the Alabama law.
An attorney general should not defend a law that, in his judgment, is patently unconstitutional. However, there is no evidence that Sessions viewed the Alabama law in question as constitutionally indefensible.
I agree with his assessment that the law could be defended. Neither CNN nor the New York Daily News, which joined in this attack on Sessions, attempts to show that the arguments Sessions advanced were frivolous.
In any event, even if Sessions was wrong in thinking the statute was defensible, it would mean only that he held a mistaken view of the First Amendment. It wouldn’t show that he’s a bigot.
It is now the law of the land that sodomy laws are unconstitutional. Thus, Alabama’s argument that it had the right to enact laws that prohibit “aiding, furthering, or abetting” violation of State sodomy and sexual misconduct laws would be frivolous today.
But it wasn’t frivolous in 1995 when Sessions had to decide whether to follow the course set by his Democratic predecessor and defend the legislature’s decision to ban state funding to groups that promoted sodomy. In fact, the Supreme Court had ruled in 1986 that states are free to ban sodomy. It didn’t reverse course until 2003.
Joe Biden said yesterday that “the president gets to choose who he wants or she wants for their cabinet members unless either they are taking over the job with the express purpose of not enforcing the law. . .” Jeff Sessions’ conduct in the case of the Alabama gay rights group is evidence that he enforces the law. There is no reason to doubt that he will follow current law in the area of gay rights and civil rights generally.
What he is unlikely to do is stretch these laws. Therein lies the left’s real objection to Sen. Sessions.
NOTE: I have modified this post slightly since it first appeared.