In 1986, Coretta Scott King (widow of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) wrote a letter urging Congress to block the nomination of Alabama’s Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship. Mrs. King was extremely concerned about what she perceived as Sessions’ racism and abuse of power for racist ends; King stated that allowing Sessions onto the federal bench would “irreparably damage the work of my husband.”
In her cover letter, Mrs. King wrote:
“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot 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.”
In 1986, Mrs. King’s letter and opposition from civil rights groups were major reasons that Sessions’ nomination failed. The letter was never entered into the public record by then-Chair of the Judiciary Committee Strom Thurmond, and has previously not been available to the public. Nonetheless, Mrs. King’s letter resurfaced Tuesday amid confirmation hearings on Jeff Sessions’ nomination to Attorney General of the United States, a nomination which has again drawn strong condemnation and protest from civil rights groups.
Many of the issues Mrs. King raised in her letter are still relevant in 2016. For example, there is much controversy today surrounding perceived efforts to suppress voting among certain minority groups in America; in 1986, Mrs. King said Sessions’s conduct in prosecuting civil rights leaders in a voting-fraud case “raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all American citizens.”
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