The Future Of Voting And Civil Rights Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The Future of Voting and Civil Rights Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The election of Donald Trump as President as well as the subsequent successful nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General have raised many dire questions regarding the future of voting rights and civil rights in the United States. The Shelby County, Alabama v Attorney General Eric Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013 greatly weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Court ruled that the decades old coverage formula in this landmark Act was now outdated. As a result they decided that the need for the covered local and state governments to receive clearance from the United States Justice department prior to enacting any new voting legislation was no longer necessary. The U.S. Congress would have to develop a new and updated coverage formula for this ruling to be reversed. Senator Sessions and many other Republican political leaders lauded this decision at the time.
The Justice department now has the responsibility to bring lawsuits against governments that create restrictive voting laws only after the laws are instituted. Several states immediately enacted laws that restricted access to voting. The majority of these new laws were instituted by Republican legislatures seeking to limit the voting levels of Democratic leaning minority groups.
Most of these new voting laws were successfully litigated against by Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch during the second term of the Obama Administration. Who will examine and then litigate these new laws now that Attorney General Sessions is in office? It is extremely doubtful that he will do so.
Sessions is also a very strong law enforcement politician so he is highly unlikely to investigate any suspicious police shootings especially those against people of minority backgrounds. He is also an ardent anti-immigration politician who has long been a leading advocate for an extremely strong crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
I will examine these three public policy areas within this Hub especially as it relates to Attorney General Sessions and President Trump's political tendencies in regards to dealing with these subjects. In doing so, I will briefly examine the history of these policy areas prior to the Trump Administration. Then I will explain where I believe this administration will take this country within these crucial policy spheres based upon their past writings, public statements, and actions. Finally I will attempt to glean the implications of the potential Trump Administration changes within these public policy areas and how we as citizens should respond to them.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the key piece of legislation enacted during the civil rights era that was created to ensure that all citizens of the United States, including minority groups, would never again be disenfranchised from the American voting process. This Act proved to be the law that enforced the voting rights that were first guaranteed within the Constitution by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Slowly but quite steadily, African American citizens began to register to vote in the South as well as all over the country. Southern state governments had to cede to this new federal law because of their past grievous legislative behavior. The U.S. Justice department now had the power and authority to pass judgement over the legality of any new voting laws by states that were named in the covered formula in the Act. These states knew that times and circumstances had changed so they ceased attempting to enact any more of these restrictive voting laws.
The Voting Rights Act was voted on for extension in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006 with substantial bi-partisan support each time. Very little opposition was broached against it. In the meantime, southern governmental entities were becoming increasingly agitated over these decades old restrictions during the first decade of the Twenty First century.
Several challenges began to be brought to the federal courts including the Supreme Court. The Court hinted that updates needed to be made to allow them to continue to uphold the Act's constitutionality. Congress failed to act in the face of these warnings and the Supreme Court struck down the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act due to the outdated coverage formula. This occurred with their 2013 Shelby County v Holder decision.
The Supreme Court also stated within this decision that Congress could update this coverage formula with new information and statistics to make it again constitutional. The U.S. House of Representatives was firmly Republican at the time of this decision. The entire Congress is now under Republican control. They have no political interest in updating this formula since it is most likely to hurt their political fortunes. Therefore there is no chance for an updated coverage formula for the near future. Some Republican lawmakers have honorably argued that they should do so but these voices are few and far between.
No one appreciates this situation more than Attorney General Sessions who grew up during the tail end of the "Jim Crow" South. All of Sessions' actions and statements over the years have shown him to be a proponent of returning us to the period in our nation's history prior to the Civil Rights era. President Trump's public speeches and statements show that he holds the same views so overhauling the Voting Rights Act is out of the question for now. The demographics of our country are shifting swiftly against the Republicans and they know it. Sessions will do everything in his power to slow this down or reverse it by favoring the imposition of new voting restrictions on Democratic leaning minority groups to keep his party in power.
Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Alabama in 1986. This nomination was defeated in large part due to the testimony of Coretta Scott King. She testified that Sessions was a primary opponent of the Voting Rights Act in Alabama and was active in helping to prevent African Americans to vote there. He strongly denied these allegations but his actions over the subsequent years have proved otherwise.
One of the most polarizing issues over the past three years has been the police beatings and killings of Black males around the United States. These incidents have occurred in highly questionable circumstances and have ignited the African American community in a way that we have not seen since the Civil Rights era of the 1950's and 1960's.
The "Black Lives Matter" movement was created in reaction to these troublesome incidents. Furthermore the Black community has been very conscious of this danger for many decades. This has been why this movement has grown so quickly and strongly. President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are both very pro law enforcement. They also have very little or no ties to minority communities. This is especially true of Sessions.
The Attorney General was a constant critic of President Obama's Justice department for their investigations and oversight of local police departments that had numerous instances of police shootings or beatings against minority individuals. His Justice department reached fourteen legal agreements with various localities to improve their responses during their police stops and interventions.
On April 4, 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced that he was reviewing these fourteen agreements. He also stated that he was probably going to significantly amend them to give these police departments much more latitude in dealing with all police interventions and activities. This is consistent with the Attorney General's history of support for police departments and his total disdain for the civil rights of any minority groups.
One of the top opponents of any immigration reform plan since 2000 has been Jeff Sessions. He was a leading member of the opposition to immigration reform bills in 2006 and 2007 during the George W. Bush administration and another in 2013 during the Obama administration. Sessions has always rejected plans that offered any legalization paths to undocumented aliens. He has stubbornly but consistently asserted that he would never offer any concessions to those that came illegally to the U.S. no matter the situation.
Now as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has become President Trump's chief strategist and executioner of the President's anti-immigration policies. Sessions publicly announced on April 11, 2017 a new and comprehensive illegal immigrant crackdown that is unprecedented in its size and scope during the modern era.
He announced that he is targeting any undocumented immigrants for deportation no matter the circumstances. Reports of previous and subsequent massive immigration raids and crackdowns by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been rampant and they have made no exceptions for anyone.
It has now become quite obvious that the premier opponent of all undocumented immigrants has seamlessly and without apology become the ultimate enforcer of immigration laws. As a matter of fact, he seems intent on expanding upon it without input from any one else and without any consideration of the lives that it will shatter. Sessions is now building his very own law enforcement "wall" without any of the brick and mortar of President Trump's proposed physical wall along the Mexican border.
Where does the United States stand now in regards to voting and civil rights in this country? Apparently with far fewer guarantees of these rights especially if you are part of a Democratic leaning minority group.
Attorney General Sessions was raised in Alabama as the quintessential "son of the South". He clearly showed his fidelity to that upbringing in both his early legal and political career as well as in his recent lofty posts.
Sessions became an Assistant Attorney General for the southern district of Alabama in 1975 and was then appointed the Attorney General of the same district in 1981 by the newly elected President Ronald Reagan. His office prosecuted a successful civil rights case against two members of the Ku Klux Klan for the murder of an African American man in 1981.
He became most famous for prosecuting the "Marion Three" in 1985. They were three African American voter registration organizers in Alabama who Sessions charged with voter fraud. They were ultimately acquitted but to this day Sessions is proud of this prosecution and he feels he simply did not have enough evidence. Experts at the time argued that this was a selective prosecution with no real evidence and it accentuated rumors of his private racism towards African Americans and their rights to vote.
Sessions was voted down by the United States Senate to be a U.S. District Court Judge in 1986 after aspects of this case came to light as well as other alleged racist allegations that colleagues claimed he made to them in private. He was elected Alabama Attorney General in 1994 and a U.S. Senator from Alabama in 1996 mainly based on tough law and order views as well as strict restrictive voting rights views.
These political views have only hardened and expanded since his election as a U.S. Senator. Apparently instead of learning from his failed federal judicial nomination, he has decided to double down on his restrictive and punitive minority rights policies.
Senator Jeff Sessions became the epitome of the conservative Republican politician who opposed any liberal legislation that extended civil rights, voting rights, or any legislation that helped the lives of minority groups. Furthermore he opposed any social movements or legislation that tainted his bygone youthful view of how American life should be.
Attorney General Sessions has shown in his actions and pronouncements that he is fully underway in his attempt to transform the legal landscape of the United States more into the image that he deeply believes in. Does this mean our country is assured of falling back on the long progress we have made in civil and voting rights over the past fifty years?
There is an excellent chance that we will be able to push back successfully for three major reasons. Firstly, we already have a strong constitutional and judicial base that is steeped in our civil rights renaissance since the 1960's. Changing this legal base in a substantial way would take many years of legislative work or radical actions that would spark a huge degree of moral outrage around the nation.
Secondly, the Trump administration has shown its political naivete in all areas by constantly overreaching in its executive orders that have unnecessarily ignited its opposition. President Trump's incredible megalomania and desire to turn our country's political norms on their head have and will prove to be a strong bulwark against getting his radical agenda adopted.
Finally and most importantly, the progressive opposition to the Trump administration and its policies has been in full and massive force since the first day of his Presidency. This phenomenon has only grown with every new reactionary executive order and every new revelation of corruption within his administration.
The threat to our civil and voting rights for the next four years is very serious and should never be taken for granted. The progressive forces for justice arrayed against President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are considerable. Trump and Sessions are attempting to consolidate all political and economic power in the hands of their wealthy benefactors to the exclusion of all others especially Democratic leaning minority groups.
The Trump administration, including Sessions, are under investigation for possible collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 Presidential election. They are also under investigation for possible charges of perjury and obstruction of justice related to this Russia probe. These investigations should also act as a strong force in restraining the Trump Administration.
We should not let this scandal cause us to let our guard down and become complacent. The Trump administration is still looking to move full speed ahead to enact the policy agendas they want. Sessions still wants to implement his plans to restrict civil and voting rights to create an America more to his liking.
The progressive wing of the Democratic party and other independent activists are pushing back on this agenda in a fashion not seen since the 1960's. I believe that the majority of people in our country are also horrified by their actions. It is imperative that we all raise our voices against these draconian policies and keep the pressure on.
Returning us to the period before the civil rights era is totally unacceptable to myself and most Americans. The world is watching also. I urge all of my fellow citizens to remain strong and loud in this fight. Nothing more than our way of life illustrated by the "Statue of Liberty" in New York Harbor is at stake.