The hearings to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General are well under way. However, the question remains whether or not the Senate Judiciary Committee will take into consideration the opinion of law school professors from around the country.
Earlier this month, more than 1400 faculty members from 180 different law schools from 49 states signed and sent a letter to Congress, urging them to reject Session’s nomination. The letter states, “As law faculty who work every day to better understand the law and teach it to our students, we are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States. We urge you to reject his nomination.”
Specifically, the letter sites various reasons for such a plea: For one, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee rejected President Reagan’s nomination of Sessions for a federal judgeship back in 1986 because of statements Sessions made that “reflected prejudice against African Americans.” Some other reasons they site: Sessions promotes the idea of voter fraud, supports building a wall along the country’s southern border, opposes legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community, and questions the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change.
The 1424 professors who signed the letter agree with its content; yet, they individually decided to sign it for different reasons. For instance, Alison Flaum, clinical associate professor of law and the legal director of the Children & Family Justice Center at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, told Legal Productivity, “It is crucial that the people in Congress who create our laws look closely at the person who will be entrusted with enforcing them. Congress must ask whether Senator Session’s record on issues like civil rights, voting rights, immigration, and the Violence Against Women Act is compatible with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) mission ‘to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.’”
Mitchell Berman, the Leon Meltzer professor of law and professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, highlights race issues as his main incentive. “What put me over the edge on the Sessions nomination was his record of racial insensitivity,” he says. “Too many leaders of the African American community believe that Sessions is, at best, racially insensitive. Race remains our nation’s deepest problem, and this is an historical moment that cries out for racial healing. In this climate, I fear that a Sessions-led DOJ is all too likely to exacerbate divisions that we cannot afford to exacerbate. So that’s why I signed.”
Of course, not everyone is opposed to Sessions as Attorney General. According to The Washington Post, Gerald A. Reynolds, former chairman of the U.S. commission on Civil Rights, wrote a letter to the Judiciary Committee’s highest-ranking Republican and Democrat that said, “Sessions is a man of great character and integrity with a commitment to fairness and equal justice under the law.” Also, William J. Bennet, a pundit, politician, and chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education, and John P. Walters, executive vice president of the Hudson Institute, a conservative nonprofit think-tank, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN that “Sessions has served our country for decades (in the military, as U.S. attorney, and as senator) and reformed and defended those institutions that protect us all. He is an outstanding choice for attorney general, and he deserves to be confirmed swiftly.”
Also, while many lawyers do not support Sessions, there are those who do. For instance, Victoria Toensing, a lawyer in Washington D.C., former Chief Counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in an article for Fox News, “Once again a good and decent man is being maligned. Sen. Jeff Sessions, nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be U.S. attorney general, is that man. Democrats and the Left, just as they did 30 years ago when Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship, are trying to derail his nomination—with false accusations.”
If Sessions is confirmed, what does that mean for lawyers—especially those who oppose him? Berman says that lawyers—let alone any citizens in the U.S.—need to speak up. “If you believe that issues you care about are under threat, this is not the time to sit on the sidelines,” he says. Flaum agrees. She says, “The Model Rules tell us that every lawyer in this country is a ‘public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.’ Some of us will have opportunities to protect the quality of justice directly in the context of our cases; some of us will stand up for our shared values in other professional contexts. All of us can insist on a Department of Justice that fully embodies what it’s mission statement promises: Ensuring fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”