Politics & Policy

Democrats’ Impotent Attacks on Jeff Sessions

Sen. Cory Booker testifies at the Sessions confirmation hearings, January 11, 2017. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
They haven’t bothered to make a real case against Sessions because there isn’t a real case to be made.

Yesterday’s emotion-laden testimony from John Lewis and Cory Booker wasn’t an indictment of Jeff Sessions. But it was symbolic of how hyperbole and fear-mongering dominate the American debate over race. Rather than detailing how Sessions is racist or why he wouldn’t uphold his oath of office and defend the Constitution, Lewis and Booker used Sessions’s confirmation hearing to, in effect, equate modern conservatism with the explicit racism of Jim Crow. This was disgraceful.

I don’t sympathize with every stance Jeff Sessions takes — I’m particularly disturbed by his prior endorsements of  civil asset forfeiture — but to watch Lewis and Booker raise the legacy of the civil-rights movement to decry Sessions’s agreement with a majority of the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act and rebuke his support for “law and order” was to watch the tired progressive smear of conservatives as somehow insufficiently committed to true “justice.”

Lewis said, for example, “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’s calls for law and order would mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.”

“Back then,” of course, African Americans were subjected to legal persecution and even physical violence if they tried to vote, sit at a lunch counter, or ride in the front of the bus. Is there one single American law — real or proposed — that would enable or empower such conduct today? Is there any reasonably foreseeable action that Jeff Sessions could take that would enable or empower such conduct? Of course not. Lewis, having lived through the bad old days and fought valiantly to end them, should know better.

Booker pleaded for ‘hope and healing’ and asked for ‘courageous empathy,’ but the attorney general isn’t a pastor or counselor.

But it was Cory Booker who truly gave the game away. In his testimony he, too, decried all emphasis on “law and order,” arguing that “law and order without justice is unobtainable, they are inextricably tied together. If there is no justice, there is no peace.” Like Lewis, Booker tied “justice” to the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. And like Lewis, he declined to mount any real argument that Sessions would return us to the dark ages of racial injustice, because there is no such argument to be made. In the end, he was reduced to charging, also without any evidence, that Sessions won’t defend the “equal rights” of gays and lesbians, that he won’t “affirm” the “human dignity” of immigrants, and that he won’t pursue “justice for women.”

In other words, what really irritates Lewis and Booker about Jeff Sessions is that he won’t pursue the policies they want, which policies they reserve for themselves the right to hold up as the only acceptable instruments of “justice.” It’s specious to equate the even-handed requirement that every citizen produce a valid ID to vote with the abuses of Jim Crow. It’s absurd to equate the quest for secure borders and enforcement of existing immigration laws with failing to affirm the human dignity of immigrants. But it’s all Democrats can do at the moment, so it’s what they will do.

For eight years the Obama administration sought to turn the Department of Justice into the sledgehammer of the social-justice warriors, even going so far as to rewrite American civil-rights laws without so much as bothering with the rule-making process, much less passing a statute. It did so to thunderous applause from the Left. But it failed to establish a binding precedent for future attorneys general, or to redefine “racism” to mean “anything conservative.”

#related#Moreover, the progressive denigration of “law and order” comes at an inopportune time. American cities are reeling from the worst two-year spike in the murder rate in the last quarter-century. A disturbing one-year “blip” has extended into year two. As we know from the horrific drug wars of the late 1980s and late 1990s, “law and order” can literally mean life for countless thousands of vulnerable Americans, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to seek social justice when you’re dead.

Booker pleaded for “hope and healing” and asked for “courageous empathy,” but the attorney general isn’t a pastor or counselor. He’s not here to heal our hearts; he’s here to enforce our laws. Democrats can kick and scream and indulge all the emotional hyperbole they want, but they won’t sink Sessions, and it’s telling that they’ve failed to make a real case against him. Senator Sessions is conservative, and conservatives are capable of leading the Department of Justice.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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