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Coretta Scott King's 1986 Letter Condemning Jeff Sessions Is as Relevant as Ever

Jan 11 2017 8:30 PM
Coretta Scott King's 1986 Letter Condemning Jeff Sessions Is as Relevant as Ever

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Three decades ago, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter opposing Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship. As he faces a confirmation hearing for Attorney General, a professor of Africana studies and political science explains how it "could have been written today."

More than 30 years ago, Jeff Sessions was blocked from becoming a federal judge after members of the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn't get around the fact that he was just too racist. And, in part, we have Coretta Scott King to thank for that defeat. The long-time civil rights activist and widow to Martin Luther King Jr., penned a powerful letter to the committee in 1986, urging lawmakers not to approve his nomination.

According to Buzzfeed, then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond never put the letter into the congressional record; therefore, its contents were never publicly known. King's nine-page statement, which was released by the Washington Post Tuesday evening, reveals an impassioned plea focused on the fundamental right for all Americans to be able to vote.

"My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting," King writes. "Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot of by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship."

Read more: Remember When Trump's Attorney General Pick Was Too Racist to Be a Judge?

King goes on to share insight on how Sessions conducted "politically-motivated voting fraud investigations" to intimidate black voters from using absentee ballots once that process was found to engage more people in the electoral process. "The only sin [black civil rights activists who were prosecuted by Sessions] committed was being too successful in gaining votes," she writes.

Dianne Pinderhughes, a professor of political science and Africana studies at the University of Notre Dame, says the letter "certainly could have been written today." She points out that the strategies activists were using 30 years ago to get more African Americans to the polls—such as absentee ballots and early voting—are also being blocked today. For example, because of voter suppression efforts in North Carolina, fewer African Americans took part in early voting, according to a Mother Jones report.

Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago.

"Black voters are typically working people who don't have the flexibility to go necessarily on Election Day," Pinderhughes explains. "If you can go before the election, if you can use absentee ballots or vote at a flexible time, then you're going to get a much larger number of people participating."

According to Pinderhughes, in her letter King "says something to the effect of, 'as they began to use this absentee ballot strategy and found it was successful, then ... criminal investigations were begun.' I think it's very powerful evidence of the limitations and weaknesses of Sessions' nomination ... and why he shouldn't be Attorney General."

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From her letter, it appears King would have agreed. "I do not believe Jefferson Session possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court," she concludes in her letter. "Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation."

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