This is a special view on the confirmation hearings provided by POPVOX interns from Brown University. We hope you enjoy and learn from their fresh perspective and front-row seat on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week on the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions [R, AL] as Attorney General that stretched over fourteen hours over two days.
Who is Jeff Sessions?
Jeff Sessions is a Republican senator from Alabama who took office in 1997. He graduated from Huntingdon College in 1969 and received a J.D. from the University of Alabama School of Law. He was nominated by Ronald Reagan to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in 1981 and served in that position until he was elected to Attorney General of Alabama in 1994.
What does the Attorney General do?
The Attorney General is basically the government’s head lawyer. It is a broad position and can include representing the state in court and offering opinions to top executive government officials.
How do confirmation hearings work?
Committees hold confirmation hearings and refer nominations to the full Senate for final vote. Here's a list of committee jurisdictions. Learn more about the Senate's role in the nomination and confirmation process.
Who makes up the Judiciary Committee?
Senate Judiciary is comprised of eleven Republican senators and nine Democratic senators. The committee is led by Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA], with Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] serving as Ranking Member.
How did it go down?
Unlike some of the other hearings, the witnesses in the Sessions’ hearing played an extremely important role. On the second day of the hearing, most questions from the senators were directed at the witnesses. Notable witnesses in support of the nomination included attorney and member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Peter Kirsanow, former Bush Deputy Attorney General Hon. Larry Thompson, and Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Notable witnesses against the nomination included NAACP president Cornell Brooks and ACLU National Legal Director David Cole. Three lawmakers testified in opposition — Rep. John Lewis [D, GA-5], Rep. Cedric Richmond [D, LA-2], and Sen. Cory Booker [D, NJ]. Booker became the first ever sitting senator to testify against another senator in a confirmation hearing. Read witness testimony from day one and day two.
Part of the reason voting rights were so prevalent in this hearing is a case called Shelby County v. Holder, which declared a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional — one that required states to get preclearance from the federal government before they altered voting laws. With several states enacting voter identification laws, Cornell Brooks expressed worries about a “frenzy of voter disenfranchisement.”
Sen. Pat Leahy [D, VT] pressed Sessions on his views on sexual assault in light of the President-elect’s controversial statements unearthed on a 2005 Access Hollywood tape. Previously, Sessions said the situation was not sexual assault, but during the hearing, he said yes, it was sexual assault.
Due to the Secretary of State confirmation hearing and the Secretary of Transportation confirmation hearing, many of the senators were absent from most of Wednesday’s hearing. It was interrupted by protesters several times through the first and second day, with 25 protestors being arrested.
The vote on Sessions’ nomination will come shortly after inauguration.