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Highlights From Jeff Sessions' Confirmation Hearing -- So Far

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 10, 2017 12:50 PM

Senator Jeff Sessions, President-elect Trump's nominee for attorney general, went before his colleagues today in a marathon confirmation hearing -- now on its fifth hour and still ongoing. (You can watch the live stream here.)

If confirmed, and so far it looks like Sessions will be confirmed, the Republican Senator from Alabama will become the head of the Department of Justice and the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer in the federal government. Here are some of the highlights from the hearings thus far.

So Far, a Largely Nonconfrontational Confirmation Hearing

Jeff Sessions is a relatively controversial nominee. The senator, for example, had his 1986 nomination to a federal judge position derailed after testimony implying that he was racist. He allegedly joked, for example, that he was fine with the KKK, "until I found out they smoked pot." Several of his then DOJ colleagues said that he called the NAACP and ACLU un-American for "forcing civil rights down the throats of people." He's one of the Senate's most conservative members, and could radically reshape the policies of the Department of Justice.

But Sessions' confirmation hearing hasn't been overly confrontational just yet. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, for example, was representative of the Democrats' approach so far. "Aloha," she said when questioning Sessions, "I will do my best to be nice to you."

Sessions Tackles Racism Claims

Senator Sessions addressed racism concerns head-on, at the opening of the hearing. The senator diverged from his prepared opening remarks to address concerns over racism before other senators could raise them. "I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology," Sessions said. "I never declared the NAACP was un-American."

Any allegations of racism were "damnably false," the senator said.

He described the accusations against him as an unfair "caricature." "You have a Southern name," Sessions said, "You come from South Alabama. That sounds worse to some people,"

An Effective Focus on Reigning in the Trump Administration

Democrats don't have the votes needed to block Sessions' nomination and seem, rather, to be focused on getting the senator to commit to positions that could go against or limit those taken by President-elect Trump. Here's a brief run down so far.

  • Hillary Clinton: The "political dispute" around Clinton "cannot turn into criminal dispute," Sessions said, pledging to recuse himself from any DOJ investigation of her and noting that "This country does not punish its political enemies but no one is above the law."
  • Waterboarding: Donald Trump has pledged to bring back waterboarding, but Senator Sessions described "waterboarding or any other form of torture" as illegal under current law.
  • Banning Muslim Immigration: While Trump has vacillated on whether or not he will ban Muslim immigrants from the country, and on what form such a ban might take, Senator Sessions offered little support for such a ban. "I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States," he said, but noted that a ban on immigration from certain countries would be lawful.
  • NSA Data Collection: Though he opposed a law limiting bulk data collection by the NSA, Sessions said the law could not now be disregarded under a theory of executive power.

There are still plenty of topics left to cover, however. The hearings will continue throughout the day and tomorrow as well. Be sure to check FindLaw's blogs for more coverage in the future.

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