The Nuclear Option — Anatomy of a Smear: Before There Was Bork, There Was Sessions


In 1986, President Reagan nominated Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to the federal bench. The son of a general store keeper, Mr. Sessions was highly regarded for his intellect and devotion to the Constitution. The American Bar Association deemed him “qualified” for the post.

But then he came to Washington and met the United States Senate for confirmation hearings.

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God help any good citizen whoever meets such a terrifying fate.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — 17 years removed from leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to die her watery death on Chappaquiddick Island — smelled injustice. Liberal special interest groups in Washington had hatched a plan for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to begin smearing Republican nominees to the federal bench.

And, like panting lapdogs after a grungy tennis ball, Democrats fetched with great enthusiasm.


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Jefferson. Beauregard. Sessions. From Alabama with a soft Southern accent. Or was it “Secessions?” Must be a racist.

With only the flimsiest of accusations and innuendos from suspect testimony, Mr. Sessions was duly smeared in the worst way he could imagine. He was accused of harboring racist prejudices against blacks. He was willing to pervert justice and shred the Constitution in order to advance this twisted worldview.

Jeff Sessions was “a throwback to a shameful era,” declared Mr. Kennedy, a man curiously unfamiliar with the concept of shame.

Mr. Sessions was blindsided. He had never encountered such absurd allegations. He had always been a slave to the law. The guiding principle of his sterling career had always been defending and supporting the Constitution.

But in this world, none of that mattered. All they needed were accusations. The most vile accusations imaginable.

Even worse for Mr. Sessions was that his fate did not rest in his own hands. Or in the hands of a jury of his peers who are good people. His honor and reputation lay in the hands of people like Ted Kennedy. And Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators such as Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Hearing the dog whistle of racism and always on the hunt for opportunities to display his “independent streak,” Mr. Specter delivered the fatal blow. Even though Republicans controlled the Senate and the committee, they killed President Reagan’s nomination.

The precedent was set.

For the liberal special interest groups in Washington, it was a perfect victory. They had successfully politicized the one thing in America that was supposed to be sacred, that was supposed to be above politics: the rule of law.

They were doing exactly what white segregationists had done in the South decades earlier with Jim Crow laws.

They had twisted the rule of law to the point that rule of law was meaningless. The truth irrelevant. Nothing would be above racial, partisan politics.

So, the next year, when President Reagan nominated another great American jurist, Federal Judge Robert Bork, to the high court, the game was set. And the outcome already determined.

“Robert Bork’s America” would return women and blacks to the Dark Ages, though Judge Bork had never actually been involved in a single case involving the Dark Ages, or even Medieval Times. He was just an honest and fair guy who devoted his legal career to upholding the law and supporting the Constitution.

And so he was Borked.

After Mr. Sessions’ confirmation was spiked, he returned home to Alabama with his career and reputation in shreds. But he did not give in to bitterness. Instead, he sought to right the heinous injustice he had witnessed.

He ran for public office and 10 years later won a seat in the very United States Senate that had treated his nomination so unfairly.

He earned a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving alongside Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter.

Over the years, Mr. Sessions worked with the same guiding principles that got him nominated to the federal bench in the first place. He was always fair and unfailingly polite to judicial nominees.

Now, Mr. Sessions will once again face the United States Senate to be President Donald Trump’s attorney general. The same liberal special interest groups in Washington who thwarted him 30 years ago have declared that they aim to do the same to him this time.

“The handful of people who might be even less equipped than Jeff Sessions to dispense justice on behalf of the American people typically spend their weekends wearing pointy hats and burning crosses,” screamed one of these groups. “Jeff Sessions was too racist to become a federal judge. In the 1980s.”

Yes. These people were once actually taken seriously.

And now, this is the fight they want. Donald Trump has proved that Americans are sick and tired of all the race-peddling. The race warriors have been exposed and hounded from public office.

It all started with Jeff Sessions. Let it end with Jeff Sessions.

Now. Once and for all.

Charles Hurt can be reached at charleshurt@live.com; follow him on Twitter via @charleshurt.

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