University law professors sign letter opposing Jeff Sessions nomination for Attorney General

University students study in the Law Library in October 2016.

University students study in the Law Library in October 2016. Buy this photo
Emma Richter/Daily

 

Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 5:52pm

Over 1,000 law school professors from institutions in 49 states — including seven professors and five assistant professors at the University of Michigan Law School — signed a letter in opposition to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R–Ala.) as U.S. Attorney General. The letter, addressed to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, presented arguments about why the Committee should reject the nomination at the confirmation hearings next week on Jan. 10 and 11.

The letter listed areas of concern in regards to Sessions' politics, which include support for a wall along the country’s southern border, regressive drug and incarceration policies and a questioning of the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change.

“Some of us have concerns about his misguided prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, and his consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud,” the letter reads. "Some of us have concerns about his repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community.”

The University professors which signed the letter, including Law Professor Margo Schlanger, who researches civil rights, prison reform, torts and surveillance and heads the University’s Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse. Schlanger opposes Sessions' nomination because of what she described as an unfavorable history on civil rights legislation and allegations of racism towards former staffers in the past.

“Senator Sessions has a long history not just of racial insensitivity but of hostility to the vigorous enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws,” Schlanger said. “That makes him an unacceptable choice to head the Department of Justice, which is the federal government’s lead civil rights enforcement agency.”

LSA junior Collin Kelly, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said he agrees with the letter and believes that the nomination is questionable, especially because of how Sessions' attitude toward civil rights deviates from the platform put forth by Loretta Lynch, the current United States Attorney General.

“Someone being appointed who has been accused of being racist is offensive to the American people,” Kelly said. “There are laws all over the country, like voter ID laws, that specifically target minority communities and poor communities, and the Department of Justice is expected to investigate that these laws aren’t having negative effects on already marginalized communities. A lot of people are worried that if Sessions is Attorney General, that’s just not going to happen. If anything, civil rights protections will pretty much cease to exist.”

College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Sessions is against workplace protections for LGBTQ people, Black Lives Matter movement and voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and denounces the Voting Right Act. This history, along with Sessions’ racist remarks that caused his failure to be nominated as a federal judge in 1986, are a few reasons why David Uhlmann, director of the University’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, also signed the letter addressed to the chairman and the ranking of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

“I served for 17 years at the Justice Department, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, and care deeply about the Department and its work upholding the rule of law and protecting civil rights and the environment,” said Uhlmann. “During his career, Senator Sessions has opposed most of the essential work of the Justice Department, from fighting discriminating based on race, gender and sexual orientation to curbing pollution and anti-competitive behavior in business.”

While Uhlmann believes this massive opposition on the part of law professors across the country is extraordinary, he understands that a Republican majority will likely lead to Sessions' confirmation.

Kelly also applauded the penned statement and said it serves to continue an important dialogue, especially in a time when political correctness is losing priority among both citizens and government.

“It makes me proud of my institution,” Kelly said. “These are professors, not activists, trying to make a political statement. They’re experts in their field, and if they’re saying this, I think it shows how real the problem is.”  

Schlanger stated that Sessions, despite an overwhelming Republican majority in Congress currently, may be so controversial that he could have a difficult time during the upcoming hearing.

“The Senate rarely declines to confirm a current or former Senator to executive office, but Senator Sessions is combining a problematic record with a stunning lack of candor to his colleagues that may actually move a few Republicans to the right side of this contest,” she said.

Looking at the future of American politics and civil rights discourse, Uhlmann and Schlanger agree that Sessions could impair very vital civil rights in the United States and would fail to uphold justice if he held a position of such wide discretion.

Uhlmann sees dangerous similarities between Sessions' platform and the extreme viewpoints vocalized and made prominent by the Trump campaign.

“The confirmation of Senator Sessions as Attorney General would undermine immigration reform, criminal justice reform, environmental protection and civil liberties,” Uhlmann said. “That is no accident. Senator Sessions will provide a prominent voice to the most extreme views in the United States and undermine the diversity, inclusion and commitment to equality under the law that makes our country great.”