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Friday, July 25, 2003
Oh Yeah? Well, You Don't Know How to Cook Grits!

Sometimes, things are just too bizarre, as the following from Nina Totenberg's NPR report on the Pryor nomination hearings:

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): The ranking member protests that he is not anti-Catholic and he's offended that anyone suggested that he is. Well, let me tell you, the doctrine that abortion is not justified for rape and incest is Catholic doctrine. It is a position of the pope and it's a position of the Catholic Church in unity. So are we saying that if you believe in that principle, you can't be a federal judge? Is that what we're saying? And are we not saying then good Catholics need not apply?

Sessions is a Methodist. The "ranking member" is Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

But what about this statement: "Catholic judges who believe capital punishment is wrong should resign." Is that anti-Catholic? It certainly would seem to be, since it is the official position of the Church that capital punishment is wrong. Who said it? Noted anti-Catholic Antonin Scalia.

Not surprisingly, Pat Buchanan agrees (warning: only click on this link if you have a strong stomach):

[T]he choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral," said Scalia, "is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty."

Within hours of the story hitting the wires, Wolf Blitzer was on the phone. Could I come over to CNN and explain how the justice, a devout Catholic, could openly defy the teachings of his church?

Delighted. For Scalia had not contradicted or defied any Catholic doctrine. Rather, it is the Holy Father and the bishops who are outside the Catholic mainstream, and at odds with Scripture, tradition and natural law....

Other information about Sessions, courtesy of Sarah Wildman in The New Republic (all emphasis mine):

The year before his nomination to federal court, he had unsuccessfully prosecuted three civil rights workers--including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr.--on a tenuous case of voter fraud. The three had been working in the "Black Belt" counties of Alabama, which, after years of voting white, had begun to swing toward black candidates as voter registration drives brought in more black voters. Sessions's focus on these counties to the exclusion of others caused an uproar among civil rights leaders, especially after hours of interrogating black absentee voters produced only 14 allegedly tampered ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in the 1984 election. The activists, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted in four hours and became a cause célèbre. Civil rights groups charged that Sessions had been looking for voter fraud in the black community and overlooking the same violations among whites, at least partly to help reelect his friend Senator Denton.

On its own, the case might not have been enough to stain Sessions with the taint of racism, but there was more. Senate Democrats tracked down a career Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people." In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as "un-American" when "they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions" in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to "pop off" on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases. Sessions acknowledged making many of the statements attributed to him but claimed that most of the time he had been joking, saying he was sometimes "loose with [his] tongue." He further admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation," a phrase he stood behind even in his confirmation hearings.

It got worse. Another damaging witness--a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures--testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn't see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks." Figures echoed Hebert's claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American." Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.

Well, with that kind of a record on race, he should be very comfortable sitting next to Chief Justice Rehnquist.

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