Sessions on LGBT: ‘I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and safety are fully enforced’
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 11, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- Attorney General designate Jeff Sessions told U.S. Senators during his confirmation hearings on Tuesday that he would protect homosexual "rights," saying he will follow the law.
In response to a question by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Sessions said, "I understand the demand for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community. I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are fully enforced."
Sessions read from a pre-written script during the Judiciary Committee hearing in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the U.S. Capitol.
As a senator, Sessions co-sponsored the Federal Marriage Amendment, seeking an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He characterized the Obergefell v Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex "marriage" as "beyond what I consider to be the realm of reality.”
Sessions has opposed including free speech against homosexuality in hate crimes legislation, and he did not support gay activists' attempts to indoctrinate schoolchildren in "safe sex" practices to prevent HIV infection.
Sessions' previous public comments opposed the Supreme Court's Lawrence v Texas decision, which legalized sodomy. He supported the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. military, saying he believed it was “pretty effective.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, asked Sessions about federal obscenity laws, citing Utah's state legislature declaring pornography a "public health hazard." In response, Sessions said he would consider bringing back adult obscenity prosecution by the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department, which was most active under the George W. Bush administration.
The conservative senator also answered questions about his support for pro-life issues and protecting the sanctity of innocent human life during the opening day of the hearings.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, asked Sessions about state-legalized marijuana, which remains against federal law. “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, but, absolutely, it’s a problem of resources for the federal government,” Sessions responded.
He admitted that enforcing federal law against cannabis in states where the narcotic is legal would set up a Constitutional fight between states' rights versus national anti-drug laws. “I know it won’t be an easy decision,” he said, vowing to use “good judgment.”
Sessions has said in the past that he felt it "beyond comprehension" that President Obama told the nation's youth that marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol.
Leahy also referred to an 11-year-old anti-Trump tape where the President-elect is heard bragging about groping women. During the Trump campaign, the Weekly Standard reported that Sessions said it would be a “stretch” to consider Trump's comment a sexual assault. Sessions maintained that he was taken out of context.
Leahy wasn't satisfied. “Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without her consent sexual assault?” he asked. Sessions responded, “Clearly, it would be.”
Leahy was unrelenting, and asked the same question again. Sessions replied simply, "Yes."
Leahy also mischaracterized a Trump campaign promise to bar people from entering the United States based on their religion. Sessions corrected his questioner, stating that Trump's position favors the "strong vetting" of people from "countries that have a history of terrorism."
After emphatically stating he opposed any ban on Muslims, Sessions explained that he voted no on a Senate resolution against barring people based on religion because violent or terrorist religious views should be considered in the immigration process.
In his opening remarks, Sessions said he would protect the U.S. from “radical Islamic terrorism.”
During Leahy's questioning, Sessions assured the committee that he was completely against banning religions. “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.
He added that religious freedom for all is a "very high priority" for him.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, asked Sessions about waterboarding, which Sessions supported in the past but which Congress under the Obama administration made a crime.
In 2008, Sessions regretfully admitted about waterboarding, “The first thing we know is it worked. I hate to say, it worked." Today, Sessions explained that the law has changed.
“Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding … or any other form of torture," Sessions said.
In the weeks leading up to his confirmation hearing, Sessions was accused of racism because of comments he denied making 30 years ago, when his nomination to a federal judgeship was tanked by Democrats in the Senate. In Tuesday’s hearing, he addressed the accusation head-on. “These are damnably false charges,” Sessions assured the committee. "The caricature of me in 1986 was not correct. I do not harbor the kind of animosity and race-based discrimination ideas that I was accused of. I did not."
He added, “I abhor the Klan ... and its hateful ideology.”
At his 1986 confirmation hearing, Sessions said his comments about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) being "un-American" were taken completely out of context. He explained that he was talking about when civil rights organizations "leave the basic discriminatory questions and start getting into matters such as foreign policy, and things of that nature, and other political issues."
Nevertheless, the label "racist" was attached to the conservative senator, and the label has continued to be used against him by political opponents.
Sessions flatly and emphatically stated Tuesday, “I never declared that the NAACP was ‘un-American’ or that a civil rights attorney was a ‘disgrace to his race.’”
Comedian-turned-senator Al Franken, D-MN, attacked Sessions on a statement seven years ago in an interview with the National Review that he had “filed 20 or 30 civil-rights cases to desegregate schools and political organizations and county commissions when I was a United States ttorney.”
Sessions admitted that that might have been overstated, explaining that it is “extraordinarily difficult” to compile an exact number from court documents, and he may have overstated because some cases “involved multiple parties and multiple defendants.” Nevertheless, under his tenure as a U.S. attorney, he actively worked to desegregate schools.
In remarks introducing Sessions, Judicial Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, headed off the old-but-often-trumpeted charge of racism by noting Sessions was the only person in the room who prosecuted the head of the Ku Klux Klan for murder.
Sessions actually sought the death penalty in the Alabama KKK case, and the resulting multimillion dollar judgment against the Klan completely destroyed the state organization.
But Grassley wasn't a powder puff. He grilled Sessions about his statements during the Trump campaign on Hillary Clinton deserving jail time over her misuse of top secret classified emails and the Clinton Foundation "charity" giving millions of dollars to the former president and first lady.
Sessions responded that because of his comments, his "objectivity" might be called into question, so he would recuse himself from any hypothetical Clinton email or Clinton Foundation investigation.
"We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” Sessions reasoned. “This country does not punish its political enemies. What this country ensures is that no one is above the law.”
On a positive note, Sessions' opening statement laid out a vision for the Department of Justice to serve as a "unifying force" in communities, noting the alarming rate of crime against police and the rising rate of homicides in cities like Chicago.
“Make no mistake, positive relations and great communication between the people and police are essential for any good police department," Sessions said. "And when police fail in their duties, they must be held accountable.”
The hearing continued Wednesday.
Amid liberal accusations that the confirmation process is an over-rushed "disgrace" and that the Senate is motivated by "corruption and cronyism," the top Democrat on the Judicial Committee assured detractors that the confirmation hearings will be just and impartial.
“The process is going to be fair and thorough,” Feinstein said.