Washington Post unwittingly destroys the “Sessions is a racist” slander

The Washington Post devotes a lengthy article to the question of whether Jeff Sessions is a racist — a question it calls “inescapable” (headline in paper edition). But the Post’s reporting, by Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz, demonstrates that, “inescapable” or not, the question has an obvious answer. No reasonable person could read the article without concluding that Sessions is not a racist.

The Post presents the following evidence that the racism charge is bogus:

* Sessions hired African-Americans for senior positions. One of them was the first black Republican chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

* The African-Americans Sessions hired speak highly of him. For example, the black he hired as chief counsel says “Jeff Sessions is a man who cared for me, who looked out for me and who had my best interests in mind.”

* As U.S. attorney, Sessions signed off on a host of anti-discrimination suits brought by the Justice Department.

* He also signed off on election lawsuits brought by the Justice Department to convert countywide elections to multiple district elections so that African Americans could be represented on county commissions and schools boards.

* Sessions was diligent in successfully prosecuting two Ku Klux Klan members for killing a black youth.

* Barry Kowalski, the Justice Department lawyer who worked with Sessions on these prosecution says that, although not all U.S. attorneys welcomed department lawyers from Washington, Sessions was “entirely supportive.” He adds: “I got close enough to [Sessions] that I am convinced that he sincerely cared about solving that vicious murder and lynching of an African American.”

* Sessions showed “fierce determination” in solving two civil rights murders: the 1989 killings of a federal judge in Alabama and an official with the NAACP.

* He worked with an African-American neighborhood organizer to help set up a “drug court” to help first-time offenders clear their records. The effort primarily helped black youths who had minor drug convictions.

* As a U.S. senator, Sessions co-sponsored legislation to honor civil rights activist Rosa Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal.

* Former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson, an African American who has known Sessions for more than 30 years, says that the Alabama Senator “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

The Post could have added that Sessions is viewed favorably by an African-American law school classmate and the minority leader of the Alabama Senate who is African-American (and a Democrat).

Against all of this, what evidence does the Post present that it believes might support the racism charge?

It notes that Sessions “has been sharply criticized by civil rights groups for his positions on voting rights, same-sex marriage and gender equality.” But disagreeing with “civil rights groups” isn’t evidence of racism. These groups want to interpret the law as expansively as possible in favor of certain groups. That may be their job, but it’s not the job of a U.S. Senator.

Of the issues mentioned above, only voting rights pertains to race. The Post acknowledges that in 1986, Sessions called the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” — which it indisputably is — but “necessary.” Twenty years later, he voted to renew it for 25 years.

The Post seems unhappy that when the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act, Sessions said this was “good news. . .for the South.” We discussed that decision here.

The decision was good news for the South because it effectively ended a presumption, based on evidence from the 1960s, that Southern states — and only Southern states — are incapable of holding racially fair elections and thus must seek Justice Department approval for the most basic of election-law decisions. The Post presents no evidence or argument in favor of maintaining this presumption 50 years on.

The Post also cites a comment Sessions made to the DOJ’s Kowalski while the two were aggressively prosecuting Klansmen. Informed that the defendants were high on marijuana when they committed their crime, Sessions expressed surprise. In response to Kowalski’s chiding that Sessions’ view of Klansmen was out of date, he told Kowalski (and later repeated the line to others) “I used to respect them, but if they smoke pot, I sure can’t.”

Kowalski took this as a joke — “hospital humor,” as he put it. Clearly it was. Sessions obviously didn’t respect the defendants or their organization. He was prosecuting them at the time.

The centerpiece of the Post’s case against Sessions consists of his unsuccessful prosecution of an Alabama civil rights leader for voter fraud. The Post leads off its article by citing the views of that leader’s widow. She says that Sessions is “racist to the core.”

It is hardly unusual for a defendant’s widow to take a dim view of her husband’s prosecutor. A less biased news organization than the Post would not try to make so much of this widow’s opinion of Sessions.

The prosecution itself provides no indication of racism. As the Post notes, the action had its origin in the complaint of local black officials that the lead defendant and his associates were taking absentee ballots and altering the votes. Thus, the underlying dispute was between two sets of African-American politicos.

It wasn’t racism for Sessions to believe one set’s complaint that the other set was engaging in voter fraud. The Post’s article makes it clear that there was evidence to support the complaint, though there was also evidence to the contrary.

Note too that there was no attempt to prevent anyone from voting. The underlying issue wasn’t the right of any African-American to vote, it was a question of whom they had voted for. Indeed, for a politician to change someone’s ballot — which is what Sessions thought had occurred — would be, in effect, to harm the voting rights of that individual.

Whom, then, does one believes: the distinguished African-Americans who have known Jeff Sessions over the years and say he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body or the widow of someone Sessions prosecuted? The question answers itself.

The charge of racism against Jeff Sessions is a slander. Is it too much to hope that those Senate Democrats who choose to oppose their long-time colleague are able to do so without giving voice to it?


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