U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama at an August speech on immigration policy hosted by Donald Trump in Phoenix. Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an August immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump in Phoenix. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons)
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an August immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump in Phoenix. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons) Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Washington – Sen. Richard Blumenthal and other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee vowed to give Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, tough scrutiny, setting the groundwork for a contentious confirmation hearing.

“Seeking a public trust of profound importance, an appointee should have unquestionable integrity and ability, an unshakable respect for the Constitution, and a record of professional and ethical excellence. Senator Sessions will be held to this high standard. I am sure he anticipates no less,” Blumenthal said.

Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump and was a fierce defender of the president-elect during his gaffe-ridden campaign. A former prosecutor who was elected to the Senate in 1996, Sessions serves with Blumenthal on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But his hard line on immigration, and his failure to win a federal judgeship in 1986 because of racially charged comments are expected to be the basis for Democratic opposition to the candidate.

“Although a respected colleague, Senator Sessions deserves and no doubt expects the same exacting, serious scrutiny that any other attorney general nominee would receive,” Blumenthal said. “As the nation’s highest law enforcer, this position extends an unrivaled panoply of powers – over individual rights and liberties, national security, criminal justice, environment and many others.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the most senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said, “Senator Sessions and I have had significant disagreements over the years, particularly on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and criminal justice issues.”

“But unlike Republicans’ practice of unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s nominees, I believe nominees deserve a full and fair process before the Senate,” Leahy said. “The American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record at the public Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy said Sessions “has a troubling track record on matters such as civil liberty protections and a history of demonstrating poor judgment as evidenced by his previous pejorative, insensitive comments towards people of color.”

“These comments must be scrutinized during his confirmation hearings,” Malloy said.

But Malloy also said Sessions has “shown a willingness to improve the justice system by supporting his home state’s drug courts as well as efforts to address disparities in sentencing laws.”

Sessions sponsored bills aimed at eliminating sentencing discrepancies between those selling crack cocaine and those selling powdered cocaine.

News of Session’s nomination roiled liberal groups on Friday.

People for the American Way President Michael Keegan urged the Judiciary Committee to reject Sessions’ nomination, saying, “He’s voted in favor of torture programs under the Bush administration and opposed hate-crime protections for LGBT people.”

“If anyone still thinks that Donald Trump might govern with more responsibility or moderation than he campaigned, this nomination is a wake-up call,” Keegan said.

Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voices, an immigration advocacy group, said, “Sessions is the most anti-immigrant senator in the chamber.”

“Another day, another example of how President-elect Trump is filling the most powerful cabinet positions and senior White House posts in his administration with white nationalists and anti-immigrant zealots,” Sharry said.

Conservative groups, however, embraced the nomination.

“As attorney general, Senator Sessions will bring stability and credibility back to a troubled Justice Department under the Obama Administration,” said a release from the  American Center for Law and Justice. “Senator Sessions has the knowledge, leadership, and capability to restore the institutional credibility at the Justice Department.”

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a hardline group on immigration, also praised Trump’s choice.

“As America’s top attorney, Senator Sessions would put an end to the flagrant violation of federal immigration law by the more than 300 sanctuary cities and jurisdictions across the nation,” Stein said. “For too long now, sanctuary cities have been all but ignored by the federal government, despite the undisputed fact that they serve as a beacon to illegal immigration. Their continued presence is a clear threat to national security, public safety, and the rule of law.”

When Sessions was nominated by former President Reagan for a federal judgeship in 1986, a GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his candidacy because of testimony by former colleagues that Sessions had referred to the  N.A.A.C.P., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.”

Sessions had also said that the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot,” a remark Sessions dismissed as a joke.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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