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Civil Rights Activists Blast Senators for ‘Collegiality’ with Sessions

WASHINGTON – Civil rights activists were not changing their tune about Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-Ala.) nomination after the first day of his confirmation hearing.

Some activists criticized members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for their “collegiality” at the hearing, which began at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and wrapped up for the day more than nine hours later with some breaks in between.

Under questioning from Democrats about existing laws related to abortion and same-sex marriage, Sessions said he would follow and enforce all laws even those that he personally opposes.

“I would respect it and follow it,” Sessions said of Roe v. Wade.

He said the right of same-sex couples to marry is “settled” and told the committee he would follow that Supreme Court decision as well.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was “unimpressed” with Sen. Sessions’ performance. She blasted the lawmakers at the hearing as “more interested in collegiality than the health of the American justice system.”

“Sessions said today that he ‘understands the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community,’ but it is very clear that he intends to use that understanding only to do harm,” she said on a conference call Tuesday with reporters. “Nothing Sen. Sessions said during today’s hearings changes the fact that he is an extremist who is hostile to civil rights, including those of transgender people and other members of the LGBT community.”

Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, shared a similar view.

“The rushed nature of the confirmation process places senatorial collegiality over the advice and consent responsibilities that are the Senate’s constitutional duty,” he said. “We are confident that a more full and public airing of Senator Sessions’ views and beliefs will prove that he is unfit to serve as attorney general.”

Henderson said a senator’s friendship for 20 years with a nominee like Sessions should not serve as a basis for deciding the next attorney general.

“Collegiality is no substitute for the Senate’s responsibility of advice and consent and that must be the standard by which the Judiciary Committee reviews all prospective nominees for this position,” he said.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the hearing did not change his conclusion that Sessions is “unfit” to serve as attorney general.

“Sessions’ assurances that he will enforce the law cannot override a troubling record of disinterest and even contempt for ensuring that civil rights protections are vigorously implemented,” he said. “We can only conclude that a much deeper examination is required before the Senate could confidently confirm Jeff Sessions.”

Andrew Imparato, executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, criticized Sessions’ record on “disability rights.”