New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has announced that he will testify against Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, at Sessions’ confirmation hearing this week.
This is a surprising break from precedent, and it will be the first time in history that a sitting U.S. senator testifies against another senator at a confirmation hearing.
“I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker said, according to CNN. “But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”
Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between Cory Booker and Jeff Sessions.
1. They Introduced a Bill in 2015 to Award the Congressional Gold Medal to Participants of the Selma March
Cory Booker and Jeff Sessions have worked in the Senate together for about three years; Booker was elected to his current Senate seat in October 2013 after previously serving as the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. In 2015, the two senators both introduced legislation to award the Congressional medal of honor to participants of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, a watershed moment in American civil rights history.
“This was a truly pivotal event in the drive to achieve the right to vote for all Americans — a right which had systematically been denied,” Sessions said in 2015. “This action was historic and dealt a major blow to the deliberate discrimination that existed, producing a positive and lasting change for America. Those who stood tall for freedom on that fateful day deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
The bill was introduced in time for the 50th anniversary of the Selma march and it quickly passed in the Senate.
“This recognition by the United States Senate is a deserving and timely way to honor their efforts and the anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Booker said at the time. “As we confront the myriad of challenges our country continues to face, we do so with the knowledge that we drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty that we did not ourselves dig. This Award is a small token of our collective national gratitude to the courageous men and women who sacrificed so much to move our country forward.”
2. Booker Says That He Is Concerned About Sessions’ Ideology
President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Jeff Sessions to the position of U.S. attorney general in November 2016. At the time, Booker said that he was seeing a “growing and alarming trend” among Trump’s cabinet nominees, with many of them possessing fringe ideologies.
He went on to say that Jeff Sessions fits into this category and that he believes Sessions possesses ideologies that are inconsistent with basic American values.
“[B]ased on my experience over three years of working with him, I am concerned that he possesses ideologies that are in conflict with basic tenets of the Justice Department’s mission,” Booker said in a statement. “Not only has Senator Sessions been a staunch opponent of reforming the tragic shortcomings in our criminal justice system, he holds a number of views that are inconsistent with how most Americans believe justice should be applied under our Constitution.”
Booker used similar language this week when he said that he is opposing Jeff Sessions due to his “deeply troubling” views.
3. Jeff Sessions Has Been Accused of Racist Behavior
When Booker makes mention of Sessions’ “deeply troubling” views, he’s referring in part to the fact that the Alabama senator has been accused of racist behavior.
These allegations came to light in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Numerous lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he had exhibited racist behavior, such as by calling a white civil rights attorney a “disgrace to his race” and saying that he was okay with the Ku Klux Klan until he found out they smoked pot.
In addition to these remarks, though, some of the cases Sessions’ worked on as an Alabama attorney came up during the hearing, including a key one in which three African-American civil rights activists were accused of voter fraud. These activists complained about polls in certain counties only being open for a few hours in the afternoon, and they made an effort to increase absentee voting as a result. They were successful, and black absentee voting went up that year, according to The New York Times.
But these activists were subsequently accused of voter fraud in a case handled by Jeff Sessions, who at that point was United States attorney for Southern Alabama. During the trial, it was argued that it was a crime for a voter to sign a ballot that someone else had filled out, even if the voter authorized that person to fill the ballot out due to a disability. Many of the counts were thrown out and the activists were acquitted of the rest. Civil rights groups have argued that cases like these were racially motivated; after all, Sessions had decided not to take a very similar case concerning absentee ballot fraud two years earlier, according to The Washington Post.
4. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus Will Also Testify
Cory Booker will be the only senator testifying against Jeff Sessions at this confirmation hearing, but also joining him will be House representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus.
In particular, present will be Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who was a civil rights activist in the 1960s and who participated in the Selma march. In addition, Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will testify against Sessions.
But according to Politico, a few Republicans will be testifying as well: Willie Huntley, a former assistant U.S. attorney; Jesse Seroyer, a former U.S. marshal; and William Smith, a former aide of Sessions’.
5. Sessions’ Nomination Does Not Require Any Democratic Votes
There is not a whole lot Cory Booker and his Democratic peers can actually do to prevent Jeff Sessions from being approved this week.
Sessions has to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee, and so far, there is no sign that any member of the committee plans to oppose his nomination, not even the Democrats. For instance, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, has said he supports Sessions for attorney general, according to Politico.
After clearing the Judiciary Committee, Sessions will receive a floor vote, during which only a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate is required. There are 52 Republicans in the Senate, and so two of them would have to vote down Sessions in order for him not to become the next attorney general of the United States.