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Senator Jeff Sessions’ Problematic Record on Women’s Rights

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) makes opening remarks to a panel of Department of Homeland Security officials John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations; Anh Duong, director of Border and Maritime Division of Homeland Security's Advanced Research Projects Agency; Craig Healy, assistant director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's National Security Investigations Division; and Rebecca Gambler,director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, as they testify about the unimplemented biometric exit tracking system before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2016. (CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

On November 18, President-Elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Alabama’s junior Senator, as his Attorney General. The Attorney General is the nation’s highest law enforcement officer and leads the Department of Justice.  As such, the Attorney General is charged with enforcing a number of laws particularly important to women, such as the Violence Against Women Act, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and several critically important antidiscrimination statutes that protect women at school, at work, when exercising the right to vote, and in housing, as well as against discrimination on the basis of disability.  The Department of Justice also enforces federal hate crime laws, which create enhanced criminal penalties for crimes that target victims based on gender, race, sexual orientation and disability, among other categories.

Unfortunately, Sen. Sessions’ record on legal rights and protections important to women, including those that he would be responsible for enforcing in the position to which he has been nominated, demonstrates that he should not be confirmed to this crucial position.

Sessions has taken positions hostile to the rights of survivors of sexual assault.

When a 2005 tape was released in which Donald Trump described sexually assaulting and harassing women, Sessions refused to condemn the remarks, saying that he wasn’t even sure that grabbing a woman by her genitals is sexual assault. He also voted against the 2014 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and voted to block the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would have increased protections from sexual assault for military members and would have removed sexual assault investigations from the chain of military command.

Sessions has repeatedly voted to limit women’s access to reproductive health care, including abortion care.

Sessions has a 0% lifetime rating from Planned Parenthood, meaning that in twenty years in the Senate, he has consistently voted to restrict access to safe and legal abortion care and other reproductive health services. He has sponsored a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood. He has supported a 20-week ban on abortions, parental notification and consent laws, and expanding religious refusals to provide abortion, contraception, or other health care. He has opposed funding to combat clinic violence, which is on the rise. He also opposed allocating any funding to fight the Zika virus to family planning providers, including Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that Zika has been shown to cause microcephaly. Sessions has also opposed the Affordable Care Act, which provides for mandatory coverage of essential health benefits, including maternity benefits and all forms of contraception without co-pays.

Sessions has voted against employment discrimination protections, as well as other economic policies that benefit women.

Sessions voted against equal pay bills, including the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and has consistently voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act (in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014). He has also voted consistently against raising the minimum wage, a long overdue increase that would disproportionately benefit women. He also voted against a bill that would require the government to contract with a certain percentage of women-owned businesses for construction projects.

Sessions has a long record of hostility towards civil rights.

Before becoming a Senator, Sen. Sessions was rejected by the Judiciary Committee for a federal judgeship in large part because of evidence of hostility to civil rights. In 1986, President Reagan nominated Sessions, who was a U.S. attorney in Alabama at the time, to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. During Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, former employees testified that he had called black prosecutors “boy” and had said that he didn’t think the KKK was bad until he found out they smoked marijuana. There was testimony that he had called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” and that he agreed that a white civil rights lawyer was a “traitor to his race.” Sessions himself stated that the Voting Rights Act was a “piece of intrusive legislation” in his testimony before the Committee. Since becoming a Senator, Sessions has continued opposition to civil rights protections:  he has criticized judicial nominees merely for their affiliation with civil rights organizations, including District Judge Edward Chen, who had worked for the ACLU prior to his nomination.  He also accused Paula Xinis, a Maryland district court judge, of having an “agenda” and bias against police officers, based on her firm’s representation of Freddie Gray.

Sessions has consistently opposed anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Sessions opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added violence based on bias against gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to federal hate crimes legislation. Sessions voted for an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act that would have removed protections for LGBTQ individuals and voted against the final bill that included those protections. He voted for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. He voted for an amendment to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would have exempted religiously affiliated employers from the prohibition on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Before becoming a Senator, as Alabama’s Attorney General, he fought to defund Gay-Straight Alliances at Auburn University and the University of Southern Alabama.

Sessions has been a leading opponent of immigration rights.

Sessions has been a leading voice in Congress arguing against immigration reform that include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and is in favor of drastically reducing legal immigration. In his two decades in the Senate, Sessions has opposed every single immigration bill that included a path to citizenship. He has argued for limiting the number of refugees that America accepts and turning away Central American children at the border.

Sen. Sessions’ record on legal rights and protections on which women and their families rely undermines public confidence that he could fairly and vigorously enforce those laws as Attorney General.  Over the course of his career, he has consistently demonstrated animosity to the very laws that the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing.  Accordingly, the Senate should reject Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.