President-elect Donald Trump's pick for U.S. Attorney General, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, was rejected for a judgeship in 1986 in light of racially provocative statements he had made. If confirmed as AG, Sessions would become the top law enforcer in the United States.
Sessions was among the earliest supporters of Trump's candidacy. Now, the GOP senator is positioned to become the head of the Department of Justice. In his upcoming confirmation hearing, he will likely be asked about his notorious grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1980s.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions, a state prosecutor at the time, for a federal judgeship. The following year, Sessions was rebuffed by the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10 to 8. The rejection was largely influenced by concerns over whether or not Sessions was a racist, according to AL.com.
During the confirmation hearing, Alabama attorney Thomas Figures, an African-American man, testified that Sessions had referred to him as "boy" and had warned him about speaking assertively to his Caucasian peers. Figures also testified that Sessions had told him that he thought the KKK was upstanding until he learned that they smoked marijuana.
Several Alabama residents had also accused Sessions of aggressively pursuing voter fraud cases against people of color while ignoring similar accusations against white constituents.
Sessions has also been quoted as deriding the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act and for describing the ACLU and the NAACP as unpatriotic, according to CNN.
The Alabama prosecutor had denied the allegations that he was a racist before the Judiciary Committee but admitted that he had made the comment about the KKK to Figures, describing it as a bad joke. Sessions' testimony was deemed so shaky that the DOJ used it for years as an educational video for prospective judges on how not to conduct yourself during a confirmation hearing.
Now that Sessions is slated to become the AG, several civil rights groups and officials have blasted his record, deeming him unfit to oversee the DOJ.
"Sen. Sessions as AG is deeply troubling, and supports an old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values," the NAACP said in a statement.
Jonathan Smith, the former head of the DOJ civil division that had spearheaded the probe into the Ferguson Police Department in 2014, believes that Sessions will roll back the progress that the U.S. has made in criminal justice.
"The kind of statements Jeff Sessions has made around race and about people of color are disqualifying," Smith told the St. Louis-Dispatch.
Perhaps the most devastating knock against Sessions' qualifications is an endorsement from former KKK leader David Duke, who praised the Alabama senator's nomination in a blog post, The Washington Times reports.
Duke praised Sessions for having been "hated for years by the Jewish-dominated media for his opposition to massive immigration into America and for the fact that he has dared to publicly oppose the massive, institutionalized racial discrimination against white people called affirmative action."
Sessions has throughout his career denied allegations that he is a racist. During his 1986 testimony, he told the Judiciary Committee: "I am not a racist, I am not insensitive to blacks, I have supported civil rights activity in my state."
The former Alabama prosecutor had been instrumental in imposing the death penalty against Alabama Klansman Henry Francis Hays, who had murdered an African-American man. While Sessions had not prosecuted the case, he had insisted on the death penalty for Hays after he assumed the role of state AG in the 1980s. It was the first time that a white man was executed for a racially-motivated murder in Alabama since 1913, according to the National Review.
While Sessions' record provides a list of contradictions over whether or not he is a racist opposed to civil rights, his controversial statements made over the years will certainly make for a hotly contested confirmation hearing, slated for January 2017.