WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, excoriated U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions’ attorney general nomination on Wednesday, implying in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the longtime Alabama senator would only look out for “some of us.”
The civil rights icon and longtime Georgia congressman told senators during the second day of Sessions’ confirmation hearing that “it doesn’t matter how Sen. Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be.”
“We need someone as attorney general who’s going to look out for all of us and not just for some of us,” Lewis said.
Lewis spoke of his childhood in segregated Alabama and his work in the civil rights movement as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He said he worried about whether Sessions’ hardline views on criminal justice could lead to a return to the past:
“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,” Lewis said. “The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.”
Lewis was one of several members of the Congressional Black Caucus invited by Senate Democrats to testify against Sessions during his confirmation hearing. Roughly 10 minutes before Lewis said his piece, Cory Booker, D-N.J., took the unprecedented step of speaking out against the Cabinet nomination of a fellow senator.
Their speeches were the subject of some partisan disagreement, since U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee’s Republican chairman, scheduled their remarks at the end of the hearing. (The testimony of lawmakers is typically fast-tracked.)
Earlier Wednesday, another Georgian sat before the C-SPAN cameras to vouch for Sessions and his civil right record.
University of Georgia corporate law Prof. Larry Thompson, the former deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, spoke of meeting Sessions more than three decades ago and being touched by the Republican’s past comments on the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.
“Senator Sessions’ entire life in the arena of public service reflects these key characteristics of fair play and humility,” Thompson wrote in prepared testimony to the committee. “While being battered at times, he has worked hard, always with an eye to advancing the public good—and he has succeeded.”