Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
U.S. Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions isn’t feeling the love from law campuses.
Law professors and students across the country are lining up in opposition over what they view as the senator from Alabama’s hostility to constitutional rights and minority groups. The push began in mid-December when a group of 40 constitutional law professors affiliated with the American Constitution Society (ACS) sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump expressing concern over his commitment to the Constitution and specific objections to Sessions becoming the nation’s top lawyer.
More than 1,000 law students followed with their own letter to Trump issued Dec. 22 urging against Sessions’ nomination on the grounds that his positions — he’s a staunch opponent of illegal immigration and widely regarded as one of Congress’ most conservative members — would exacerbate inequality.
On Tuesday, 1,226 law professors from 179 campuses signed a brief statement to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee calling on them to reject Sessions’ nomination.
“In 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan vote, rejected President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of then-U.S. Attorney Sessions for a federal judgeship, due to statements Sessions had made that reflected prejudice against African Americans,” they wrote. “Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge.”
The idea for the letter started with a few law professors who were worried about Sessions heading the U.S. Department of Justice, said Vida Johnson, a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center who was among the letter’s seven co-authors. They shared the letter with friends and colleagues, and word spread from there, quickly racking up more than 1,000 signatures. They are raising funds to run the letter in newspapers around the country.
“I think it’s imperative that law professors speak out about a position as important as attorney general of the United States,” Johnson said in an interview Wednesday. “This is a position that wields tremendous power on a host of issues, from immigration to civil rights, to climate change.”
The law student letter was spearheaded by Amy Larsen, who attends New York University School of Law and is also pursuing a joint degree at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is the outgoing president of NYU’s chapter of the left-leaning ACS.
“As hate crimes against minorities continue to rise, we need a nominee for Attorney General who is a champion of civil rights and civil liberties,” it reads. “The ideal candidate should have a long standing commitment to the principles of fairness and equal justice for all people. Senator Sessions is not that candidate.”
The first letter from professors affiliated with the ACS laid out seven specific concerns about Trump’s approach to matters, including freedom of the press and his proposed ban on Muslims. The letter also zeroed in on Sessions, calling his record on civil rights and voting rights “troubling.” The letter expressed concern over Sessions’ opposition to same-sex marriage. “His appointment as Attorney General threatens to erase years of progress in ensuring equal citizenship in the United States,” it reads.
It’s unlikely that these opposition letters will sway Trump and Republican leaders, a reality that authors and signatories acknowledge. Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan, one of the signatories to the ACS opposition letter said last month, “We are under no illusion that Trump is going to bother to read a letter from law professors,” given that he is unwilling to sit through national security briefings.
But Johnson said she hopes the growing tide of opposition to Sessions will derail his confirmation.
“We certainly recognize that it’s a long shot, but we wanted to go on record as voicing our opposition to this man, and letting the senators know that there is opposition to him among academics who study law,” she said.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.