Free Expression Report Card: Jeff Sessions
Position within the Trump Administration: Sessions has been nominated to serve as Attorney General, the head of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Previous positions: United States Senator, Alabama (1996-present); Attorney General, Alabama (1994-1996); U.S. Attorney, Southern District, Alabama (1981-1993).
- President-elect Trump has previously indicated that that he may order his Attorney General to investigate members of the Black Lives Matter movement for speech that he believed was criminal. In a July 18 phone interview on the O’Reilly Factor during the Republican National Convention, then-candidate Trump argued that he had seen Black Lives Matter protestors “essentially calling [for] death to police” and that “you have to look into that very seriously.” When O’Reilly—referencing Americans’ right to free speech and free assembly—asked if this meant Trump would order his attorney general to investigate for possible charges, Trump responded that “we are going to have to perhaps talk with the attorney general about it or do something, but at a minimum we are going to have to be watching.”
- In 1986, Sessions was rejected as a nominee for a federal judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee, after concerns over a number of “racially insensitive statements” Sessions had made as a prosecutor. The Committee heard testimony from a Department of Justice lawyer that Sessions saw civil rights groups the NAACP and the ACLU as “un-American”, while a former assistant U.S. attorney testified that Sessions had stated that groups such as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were “un-American organizations teaching anti-American values.”
- Sessions himself, in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, recalled his statements to the effect of civil rights organizations “hurt[ing] their position” when they “demand more than is legitimate” or “ask for things beyond what they are justified in asking.”
PEN America has called upon the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that Senator Sessions will uphold constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly during his nomination process. The Free Expression Report Cards are just one initiative of PENt-Up: The PEN Transition Update, PEN America’s effort to track, analyze, and share important expression-related updates as our nation undergoes transformation into an America we all hope to still recognize. Read more at PEN.org/pent-up.