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LDF’s Kyle Barry on Democracy Now: Senator Sessions Unqualified to Defend Civil Rights

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: Kyle Barry, you’re policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. You authored the report on Jeff Sessions. Why did you find it necessary to write a report on this nomination in particular?

KYLE BARRY: Thanks, Amy. I think one of the first things that people have to remember is that the attorney general is really the chief protector and enforcer of all of our nation’s civil rights laws, including the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and a host of very important civil rights legislation. And in Jeff Sessions, you have someone who has spent over 40 years of his political and legal career opposing civil rights and opposing principles of equality. And we’re now entering a time, in the current political climate, in particular, where civil rights will have such an important role really preserving the rule of law in our democracy and, of course, protecting the vulnerable communities that those laws are designed to protect. And so we have very grave concerns that Senator Sessions is someone who can live up to that solemn responsibility.

And, you know, you’ve been talking about the 1986 hearing and his nomination that was rejected, and what we found in looking at decades of his records since then, including time as state attorney general, time, 20 years, as a United States senator, is that the concerns from the 1980s have been borne out consistently over time. And issue by issue, whether it’s voting rights or criminal justice or education equality, all these issues that DOJ has a central role in dealing with, Jeff Sessions has opposed civil rights and has opposed principles of equality at every step of the way.

AMY GOODMAN: Even recently, when Republicans were looking at prison reform, Senator Sessions worked against changes in mandatory minimums. Can you talk about this, also his support of the use of chain gangs?

KYLE BARRY: Sure. Yeah, we have very serious concerns about Jeff Sessions’ record on criminal justice in particular. On sentencing reform, he was really an outlier, on the fringe of even his own party, in opposing commonsense reforms to federal sentencing rules, and particularly the use of mandatory minimums, which have shown to be not just discriminatory, particularly against African Americans and Latinos, but also entirely ineffective. And that reform package had the support of Republican leadership, including the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Chuck Grassley. And Jeff Sessions led opposition to that, to that reform.

And, you know, particularly horrifying, as you mentioned, when he was a state attorney general in Alabama, he was a very vocal supporter of the use of chain gangs, a practice that had been recently reinstated when he was state attorney general. And he, at the time, praised the use of chain gangs. He seemed to be completely, I think, at best, oblivious to the racial implications, the historical implications in a state like Alabama, with such a long and sordid history of racial discrimination. And to him, the image of chaining prisoners together on the side of public roadways was totally fine for him. And, in fact, he specifically stated that he thought that would not be embarrassing to Alabama, that that would not be an image problem to Alabama and that the practice was perfectly constitutional and proper. And for someone who was then a state attorney general to demonstrate that kind of extraordinary racial insensitivity, I think, to put it lightly, you know, imagine that on a nationwide scale, if he is promoted to the highest law enforcement position in the entire United States. I think that’s very concerning.