Civil Rights Commissioner: Sessions’ Record Shows ‘Legally Sound, Intellectually Honest’ Approach to Civil Rights

By Melanie Arter | January 11, 2017 | 11:22am EST
Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (AP Photo)

( - Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, testified Wednesday that a review of the bills that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), nominee for attorney general, has sponsored and co-sponsored during his time in the Senate “as well as his public activities and actions” showed that his “approach to civil rights is consistent, is legally sound, intellectually honest,” and that he “has an appreciation and understanding of the historical bases for civil rights laws.”

“Our examination found that Senator Sessions’ approach to civil rights matters – both in terms of his legislative record and his other actions - is consistent with mainstream textural interpretation of relevant statutory and constitutional authority as well as governing precedent,” Kirsanow told the Senate Judiciary Committee at Sessions’ confirmation hearing. 


“Our examination also reveals that Senator Sessions’ approach to civil rights is consistent, is legally sound, intellectually honest, and has an appreciation and understanding of the historical bases for civil rights laws, and our examination found that several aspects of Senator Sessions’ record unfortunately have been mischaracterized and distorted to portray him as somehow being indifferent if not hostile to civil rights. The facts emphatically show otherwise,” Kirsanow said.

Kirsanow named a number of bills that Sessions has sponsored or co-sponsored while in the Senate which honor “significant civil rights leaders, events, icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Reverend Shuttlesworth’s fight against segregation, three separate bills honoring Rosa Parks, a Senate apology to the descendants of victims of lynching, a bill to honor participants of the Selma Voting Rights March, a bill to honor the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and on and on and on.”

“But Senator Sessions’ commitment to civil rights transcends simple resolutions in support of civil rights. He has authored, co-sponsored, or sponsored a number of bills to protect and enhance voting rights such as the Federal Election Reform Act of 2001, the Voter Fraud Protection Act of 2009, a number of bills to protect and enhance the voting rights of service members – particularly those serving overseas,” Kirsanow said.

“He’s a strong proponent of religious liberty, having sponsored or co-sponsored several bills to prevent discrimination against the religiously observant and to prevent the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of a person’s religious beliefs, but in our estimation, his most profound and important impact is on preserving and protecting the rights of American workers, particularly black workers,” Kirsanow added.

Kirsanow noted that “the labor participation rate for black males “is 61.8 percent and falling” and that “the unemployment rate for black males is nearly double that of white males.”

“Evidence produced before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights shows that 40 percent of the 18-point in black employment levels is attributable to government failure or refusal to enforce existing immigration laws, and this has a cascade effect by increasing the competition within the unskilled and low skilled marketplace, driving out black workers, slashing wages, particularly among black males,” he added.

“And this has resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not slightly over a million blacks, having lost their jobs directly due to this phenomenon, and it has broader sociological implications as well related to incarceration and family formation rates,” Kirsanow said.

“No one has been more committed or engaged than Senator Jeff Sessions in protecting and enhancing the prospects of black workers in America. But for his indefatigable efforts in this guard, the plight of black workers now, in the immediate future, and in the foreseeable future would be demonstrably worse,” he said. 

Sessions’ “leadership on this matter, and his leadership on the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest has been key to restoring an even deeper downward trajectory for black workers in this country,” Kirsanow said.

Kirsanow concluded, by saying that Sessions’ “record on civil rights legislation, his actions as a U.S. attorney and state attorney demonstrate an unwavering commitment to equal protection under the law, and a genuine fidelity to the rule of law that should make him an outstanding attorney general.”

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