Update: February 8, 2017, 4:30PM PT
Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General by the full Senate (52–47).
Jeff Sessions—whose civil rights history was so troubling that a Republican Senate refused to confirm him as a federal judge in the 1980s—was confirmed today to serve as U.S. Attorney General. “Sessions’ abysmal record of opposition to fundamental civil rights and environmental protections disqualifies him for service as head of our federal department dedicated to justice for everyone in our country,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Policy & Legislation
. “Earthjustice will hold Sessions accountable in the court of law.”
What does the U.S. Attorney General do?
The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer for the U.S. federal government and head of the Department of Justice. The Attorney General is sworn to enforce and uphold all laws of our nation, including the laws that protect our right to a healthy environment and the laws that uphold our fundamental civil rights. There is no fixed term length for the Attorney General position.
This is how the Attorney General affects your life:
1. The Attorney General appoints key leadership positions within the Department of Justice,
including Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and the head of the Civil Rights Division, the chief civil rights enforcement agency in the country. These positions determine how—and whether—the Department of Justice enforces our civil rights and environmental laws, and whether the Department fights environmental injustice.
2. The Attorney General sets enforcement priorities.
The Department of Justice has limited resources. It cannot necessarily enforce against every violation of every law, so the AG decides what types of cases to take to court, or disregard. If environmental or civil rights cases are at the bottom of this Attorney General’s priorities, fewer—if any—of these cases will be accepted for prosecution and fewer resources will be devoted to enforcement.
3. The Attorney General decides the official position of the United States on all court cases in which the nation is a party or has an interest,
including in the U.S. Supreme Court and all other courts, domestic and foreign. The Attorney General decides which cases to pursue or defend and guides the government’s response.
4. The Attorney General is personally involved in major cases.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, for instance, played a key role
negotiating a $20 billion settlement with BP following the Deepwater Horizon
How is Earthjustice’s work impacted by the Attorney General?
Earthjustice takes the government to court to ensure it follows and enforces laws protecting our air, water and environment. But polluters and their allies also sue the government, in attempts to weaken key environmental safeguards. While Earthjustice intervenes in some of these cases to oppose such industry challenges, we need a strong Department of Justice that stands up to polluters and vigorously defends our environmental laws.
What is Sen. Sessions’ record on environmental protection?
In 2012, he supported a resolution that would roll back protections from toxic mercury
which EPA estimates prevent 11,000 premature deaths a year. Also, during a Senate hearing on climate science, he refused to accept that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that global warming is happening and humans are causing it.
What is Sen. Sessions’ record on civil rights?
He has a record of hostility to civil rights and voting rights and has faced allegations of repeatedly making racially offensive statements.
In 1981, after being appointed U.S. Attorney by then-President Ronald Reagan, Sessions attracted national attention by prosecuting three civil rights workers
for voter fraud. The case was widely viewed as baseless and a malicious prosecution aimed at suppressing the black vote. Sessions is on record calling the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation.”
(The Voting Rights Act is the key federal law that has enabled African Americans throughout the South to have access to the ballot.)
Allegations that Sessions made racially offensive remarks doomed his 1986 appointment by Reagan to the federal district court. During the confirmation hearings, a black federal prosecutor alleged that Sessions had referred to the NAACP
as “Communist-inspired” and “un-American.” He also testified that Sessions had called
him “boy” and allegedly said the Klu Klux Klan was “ok, until he learned they smoked pot.” Sessions became only the second nominee to have his nomination killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee—a Republican-led committee—in 48 years.
How was the Attorney General confirmed?
The Senate Judiciary Committee—of which Sen. Sessions was the ranking Republican—handled the Attorney General nomination, deciding when to hold hearings and when to move the nomination to a floor vote. The Attorney General is confirmed by a simple majority of the full Senate. (The vote cannot be filibustered due to a change in rules by Democrats in 2013 that Republicans are expected to adopt in January.)