Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general.
Sessions is a controversial figure, namely because of his history of being accused of racism. In fact, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, but the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against confirming him after several former colleagues of Sessions went on record accusing him of racist language and behavior.
Now, many of Trump’s opponents are decrying the nomination of Sessions due to the Alabama senator’s history. This comes after Trump named Steve Bannon, another controversial figure who has been accused of racism and anti-Semitism, his senior adviser.
Here’s what you need to know about Jeff Sessions his history of being accused of racism.
1. He Allegedly Said the NAACP & ACLU Are Un-American
When Sessions was nominated for a district court position, one of the past comments of his that was raised was in regards to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). J. Gerald Hebert, a lawyer, testified that Sessions was extremely critical of these groups.
Herbert said that during a private conservation, Sessions had labeled the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” according to CNN. Sessions also allegedly said that the groups “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
Sessions himself seemed to confirm Herbert’s statements when he said during the Senate hearings that the ACLU and the NAACP could be construed as un-American.
2. He Allegedly Said He Thought the Ku Klux Klan Was OK Until He Found Out They Smoked Pot
Another witness who testified was Thomas Figures, a black man who had worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama.
Figures claimed that Sessions once said that he used to think that the Ku Klux Klan was okay until he found out that they smoked marijuana, according to The New York Times. Sessions responded to this accusation by saying that he hates the KKK and that the marijuana comment was just a joke.
Figures also testified that Sessions frequently called him “boy” and that he once told him to “be careful what you say to white folks.”
“Had Mr. Sessions merely urged me to be careful what I say to ‘folks,’ that admonition would have been quite reasonable,” Figures said, according to The Huffington Post. “But that was not the language that he used. I realize, on the other hand, that Mr. Sessions’ remark may not have been premeditated. There was a period in our own lifetimes when blacks where regularly admonished to be particularly polite or deferential, and a remark of that sort may have just slipped out inadvertently.”
Also, Figures backed up J. Gerald Herbert’s claim that Sessions called the NAACP and the ACLU un-American. Sessions denied ever using the word “boy” in reference to a black person.
3. He Has Said the Voting Rights Act Is ‘Intrusive’
Sessions has on occasion been dismissive of civil rights cases and legislation, calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation,” according to The Nation (an assertion he stood by during the 1986 Senate hearings). J. Gerald Hebert also testified that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a disgrace to his race for working on a voting rights case.
“I mentioned to Mr. Sessions that, you know, this had been said that a lawyer who handled civil rights cases in Mobile was either a traitor to his race or a disgrace to his race…as I recall, [Jeff Sessions] said, well, he probably is,” Herbert said, according to The Huffington Post.
Sessions denied making this comment, saying that at most he had talked about how the lawyer was not well regarded around town.
Also, Thomas Figures testified that Sessions once spoke dismissively of civil rights cases, saying he wishes he could decline them all.
Sessions denied not taking civil rights cases, and he later said in an interview with National Journal that “when I was [a U.S. Attorney], I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies.”
4. He Allegedly Used The N-Word After a Court Hearing
Another accusation that came up was that Sessions had once allegedly approached an opponent at the conclusion of a court hearing and angrily used a racial slur.
“It is suggested that you stated to Mr. Wiley at the conclusion of a particularly contentious hearing back in 1981, ‘Do not worry,’ or ‘do not be too happy’…’John,’ meaning Archer, ‘will be watching you and the n—er,’ referring to the only black commissioner in Mobile,” Senator Joe Biden said in the hearing.
Sessions immediately denied that this had happened, saying, “that is an absolutely false statement,” The Huffington Post reports.
5. He Denies The Accusations and Says He Is Not Racist
At the time, Jeff Sessions denied the accusations against him, dismissing many of the comments as being intended in jest and saying that he is not racist.
“I am not the Jeff Sessions my detractors have tried to create,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “I am not a racist. I am not insensitive to blacks.”
He also said earlier this year that “Racism is totally unacceptable in America. Everybody needs to be treated fairly and objectively.”
Civil rights groups have been extremely critical of Sessions, though, not just because of these accusations but because of his voting history. For example, he has opposed hate-crime laws and supported an effort to end affirmative action programs, according to The New Republic. He was also firmly against the removal of the Confederate flag last year.
“So this is a huge part of who we are and the left is continually seeking in a host of different ways it seems to me – you know, I don’t want to be too paranoid about this, but they seek to delegitimize the fabulous accomplishments of our country by finding all the problems and highlighting them continually and ignore the tremendous achievements we’ve obtained,” Sessions said, according to Breitbart.
Sessions has an ‘F’ rating from the NAACP, and Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center told The Washington Post that Sessions being included in Trump’s cabinet is “a tragedy for American politics.”