Yesterday, during the second day of the senate confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, two men in particular spoke up for justice, for humanity, and against Senator Jeff Sessions. It is yet to be seen whether their voices made a difference in the outcome, but I am proud of both and think they deserve a two thumbs up for their courage and dedication to the seemingly obsolete concept of “doing what is right”. The two men are Senator Cory Booker and Representative John Lewis.
Senator Booker’s speech, parts of which I have quoted below, mark the first time a sitting senator has testified against a colleague’s nomination for a Cabinet post! In way of an explanation for his break in tradition, he said, “In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country.”
“I know that some of my many colleagues aren’t happy that I’m breaking with senate tradition to testify on the nomination of one of my colleagues. America was founded heralding not law and order, but justice for all. And critical to that is equal justice under the law. Law and order without justice is unobtainable. They are inextricably tied together; if there is no justice there is no peace. The Alabama State troopers on the Edmund Pettis bridge were seeking law and order. The marchers were seeking justice, and ultimately a greater peace. In that office the responsibility to pursue civil rights and equal protection for all of America, Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment. In fact at numerous times in his career he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance the ideals. If confirmed Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women. But his record indicates that he will not. He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to expand voting rights. But his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity but the record indicates that he won’t. His record indicates that as attorney general he would object to the growing national bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform. His records indicate that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts towards bringing justice to the justice system and people on both sides of the aisle.”
Mr. Booker will no doubt face criticism for his courage, but those of us who agree that Jeff Sessions is not the right person for Attorney General will applaud his actions.
Representative John Lewis, already much admired for his role as a civil rights leader for many years, also spoke against Sessions’ nomination:
“A clear majority of Americans say they want this to be a fair, just, and open nation. They are afraid this country is headed in the wrong direction. They are concerned that some leaders reject decades of progress and want to return to the dark past, when the power of law was used to deny the freedoms protected by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and its Amendments. These are the voices I represent today.
We can pretend that the law is blind. We can pretend that it is even-handed. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Sen. Sessions’ call for “law and order” will mean today what it meant in Alabama, when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.
We have come a distance. We have made progress, but we are not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Phillip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington in 1963 often said, ” our foremothers and forefathers all came to this land in distant ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”
It doesn’t matter whether Sen. Sessions may smile or how friendly he may be, whether he may speak to you. We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian or Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian or Jews We all live in the same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look for all of us, not just some of us. I ran out of time. Thank for giving me a chance to testify.”
It is doubtful, given that the Republican senators appear poised to rule favourably on anything proposed by Mr. Trump, including his cabinet nominees, that either Senator Booker’s or Representative Lewis’ words will have an effect on the final outcome. They should, if the senate were comprised of men and women of conscience, men and women who took seriously their commitments to represent ALL the people of this nation. Nonetheless, I applaud the efforts of these two gentlemen who followed the dictates of their conscience, men of high values, for their efforts. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Cory Booker and John Lewis!
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