After a series of bitter and tense confirmation hearings, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on Wednesday by a vote of 52 to 47 that essentially stuck to party lines, The New York Times reports.
Like so much else these days, the confirmation hearings highlighted the partisan divide in the Senate, with Republicans toeing the party line and the outnumbered Democrats doing their best to put up a fight. Throughout the process, Sessions was dogged by accusations of racism that stem from his time as a U.S. Attorney in Alabama. These same accusations kept him from being confirmed as a federal district court judge in 1986. This time around, however, it wasn’t enough to keep him from being elevated to one of the most powerful positions in the cabinet.
While Sessions’ confirmation was more or less expected, the fight leading up to the final vote took some dramatic turns, including the Republican-led vote to silence Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, after she tried to read a letter by Coretta Scott King that criticized Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” Republicans cited the little-used Rule XIX which states that a senator may not “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” The move sparked criticism from Democratic senators, as well as a backlash on social media, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s words—“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless she persisted,"—became a rallying cry. #ShePersisted was trending on Twitter, as was #LetLizSpeak.
While Sessions’ supporters believe that his time as U.S. Attorney in Alabama makes him uniquely qualified for leading the Justice Department in these turbulent times, others find his confirmation cause for major concern. Sessions is well-known for his ultra-conservative politics and is expected to lead the charge in fighting for President Trump’s immigration policies. According to The New York Times, many Democrats and civil rights organizations fear that he will also undo the work of the Obama administration’s efforts to increase institutional transparency and accountability, such as in the case of police departments' racial biases.
There’s also a concern that Sessions may not be able—or willing—to stand up to Trump. While he insisted during his hearings that he would not be afraid to tell the president “no,” he was also one of Trump’s earliest supporters, which calls his objectivity into question. “It is very difficult to reconcile for me the independence and objectivity necessary for the position of attorney general with the partisanship this nominee has demonstrated,” California senator Dianne Feinstein told The Los Angeles Times before the vote.
Up first for Sessions will be defending Trump’s not-a-Muslim-Ban. The fight is expected to eventually make it to the Supreme Court.