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Joint Statement of Black Women Leaders on Senator Mitch McConnell’s Attempts to Silence Words of Mrs. Coretta Scott King

2/08/17

Read the PDF of our statement here

The undersigned are prominent African-American women leaders and we write to express our outrage at the actions taken last night by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority on the Senate floor.

Last night, on the floor of the Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a powerful statement in opposition to the nomination of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to be Attorney General of the United States. Senator McConnell interrupted Senator Warren when she began quoting a letter written by Coretta Scott King, the wife of renowned civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. Senator McConnell said Senator Warren had "impugned the motives and conduct" of Senator Sessions.

In 1986, Coretta Scott King, a prominent civil rights activist in her own right, wrote a nine-page letter opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions to a federal district court judgeship. She focused on Sessions' targeting of voting rights champions,  and Dr. King's colleagues Spencer Hogue, Albert Turner, and Evelyn Turner.

Mrs. King wrote: "I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe that his confirmation would have a devastating effect, not only on the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over 20 years ago."

The Republican majority went on to object to the entry of the letter into the record and to deny the request by the chamber's only African-American woman that Senator Warren be permitted to continue to participate in the debate. The Senate then voted along party lines to forbid Senator Warren from continuing to deliver her floor speech or participate in further proceedings. 

In taking this rare and outrageous action, Senator McConnell and the Republican majority have attempted to silence the voice of Coretta Scott King herself. Indeed, the actions are an affront to her memory and an attempt to stifle the voice of two women who sought to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions. The actions also reflect a nomination process devoid of integrity and unworthy of a body charged by the Constitution to seriously examine Senator Sessions' record, creating a double standard under which Senators are permitted to rigorously develop a nomination record for any nominee except a sitting Senator.

 We call on Senator McConnell and the Republican majority to show respect for Mrs. King and its own process by reversing its decision to exclude Senator Warren from the floor debate and permit her to read the 1986 letter of Mrs. King on the Senate floor. We also call on the Senate to enter the letter into the Senate record of the nomination of Senator Sessions to be Attorney General.

Melanie L. Campbell

President & CEO, NCBCP, Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable

Sherrilyn Ifill

President and Director-Counsel

NAACP Legal Defense Fund 

Roslyn M. Brock

Chairman of the Board

NAACP 

Kristen Clarke

President & Executive Director

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 

Tamika Mallory

Co-Chair, Women’s March on Washington

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner

Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network

Clayola Brown

President, A. Philip Randolph Institute

Carol Joyner

Director, Labor Project for Working Families

Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D.

Founding Director, Ronald  W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center, Howard University