January 10, 2017
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is used to sitting in on Judiciary Committee hearings. He's just not used to being the subject of them. That all changed today, when the longtime member was on the opposite side of the table of his colleagues to discuss his confirmation as U.S. Attorney General. For Sessions, it was the first real opportunity he's had to defend himself against the ridiculous attacks of the Left about his record in Alabama. Alleging decades-old racism, liberals have gone on the warpath against the southern leader, much to the frustration of a chorus of African Americans (including Democrats) who've worked with Sessions and have nothing but respect for his record. FRC's Ken Blackwell was just one of the leaders who voiced his frustrations against what he calls a liberal "lynching" of the former state attorney general.
Still, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned at the outset that there would be no lenience for one of their own. "The process is going to be fair and thorough," Feinstein said. "But today, we're not being asked to evaluate him as a senator. We're being asked to evaluate him as the Attorney General of the United States." Right off the bat, Senator Sessions proved he was up to the task, outlining what he considered the most important qualifications for AG: providing accountability in the administration and faithfulness to the law.
"I come before you today as a colleague, who's worked with you for years -- and some of you 20 years. You know who I am. You know what I believe in. You know that I'm a man of my word and can be trusted to do what I say I will do. You know that I revere the Constitution, [and] that I'm committed to the rule of law. And you know that I believe in fairness and impartiality and equal justice under law. Over the years you've heard me say many times that I love the Department of Justice. The office of Attorney General of the United States is not a normal political office, and anyone who holds it must have total fidelity to the laws and the Constitution of the United States. He or she must be committed to following the law. He or she must be willing to tell the president or other top officials 'no' if he or they overreach. He or she cannot be a mere rubber stamp. He or she must set the example for the employees of the department to do the right thing and ensure that when they do the right thing they know the attorney general will back them up -- no matter what politician might call or what powerful special interest, influential contributor or friend might try to intervene. The message must be clear, everyone is expected to do their duty."
During one of the key exchanges of the day, Senator Feinstein pressed the proven pro-lifer about abortion and whether he would deny access to victims of human trafficking, since those funds are all under the purview of the DOJ. Immediately, Sessions drew the line, insisting that his duty wasn't to write the law -- but enforce it. "...Ultimately," he replied, "It's a matter for this United States Congress, not so much a matter for the attorney general. We need to put our money out to assist in this activity according to the rules established by the Congress." Feinstein pressed more, asking if he still believed Roe v. Wade was one of the worst Supreme Court rulings of all time. "It is," he answered truthfully. "I believe it violated the Constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law." Even so, he went on, "It is the law of the land... and I would respect it and follow it."
Of course, the irony of the Feinstein's questioning is that it's her party who advocates abandoning the law -- or worse, reinvented it to suit their political purposes. Lawlessness is a hallmark of modern liberalism. So if there's one thing the Left shouldn't worry about, it's that leaders like Sessions will abuse their power to override Congress. Besides, the Alabama leader pointed out, judicial activists have done enough of that for everyone. "There is a feeling that judges just vote when they get a big case before them on what their political agenda is and not what the Constitution actually requires that judges can redefine the meaning of words to advance an agenda they have that may not be the agenda of the American people and that inevitably is corrosive to respect the law."
In one of the more encouraging takeaways for conservatives, Sessions was asked about religious liberty and the role of the DOJ in upholding that freedom. The stark contrast between the Obama and Trump administrations couldn't have been clearer.
"Mr. Chairman, we respect people's religion. We encourage them to express themselves and to develop their relationships with the higher power as they choose, we respect that. As mandated in the Constitution, but there are situations in which I believe we can reach accommodations that would allow the religious beliefs of persons to be honored in some fashion as opposed to just dictating everything under a single provision or policy. So I believe you're correct. We should recognize religious freedom, it would be a very high priority of mine."
Speaking of religious liberty, the topic is sure to come up at Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing on Wednesday. All eyes will be on Trump's pick for secretary of state tomorrow, as both sides prepare to grill the nominee on his social leanings, among other things. In the meantime, the incoming administration has made things a little more interesting with its decision to pull Obama's overseas ambassadors off their posts after Inauguration Day -- giving the new president a clean slate for diplomacy and clearing the decks of any activists who might be tempted to use their positions to keep the twisted priorities of President Obama alive in the first few months of Trump's term. For the next secretary of state, the decision is a positive one. Releasing the ambassadors is a way for Trump to make clear who will be running the State Department. And thank goodness that starting January 20, it'll no longer be President Obama!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.