February 15th, 2017
Debate Explodes Over Coretta Scott King Letter
Left: Civil Rights icon Coretta Scott King wrote the letter in 1986 urging a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to reject then U.S. Attorney Sessionsâ€™ nomination for a district court judgeship. Photo: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons. Right: US Senator Elizabeth Warren
By Lauren Victoria Burke
NNPA Newswire Contributor
The United States Senate debate over Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (D-Ala.) boiled over into confusion and accusations on Tuesday, February 7 as Senate Democrats carried their opposition into an all-night long protest.
But at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recited the words of a letter authored by Coretta Scott King, the late widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that’s been in the Senate record for over 20 years, the drama hit an all-new level.
The Senate floor fiasco would lead to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) releasing a blistering statement late in the evening calling the episode “disgusting” and evoking the name of Civil Rights Era villain and unrepentant racist Bull Connor.
Republican Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) objected to Warren’s reading of a 1986 letter by King’s widow, because it was critical of Sessions back when he was a prosecutor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) became the face of Risch’s objection, and rose to object to Warren’s reading of the Coretta Scott King letter. McConnell asserted that the letter violated a Senate rule prohibiting senators from ‘Impugning’ other senators -- known as “rule 19.”
Warren was then ordered to stop reading and take her seat on the Senate floor. The Senate then voted to effectively censure Warren for the remainder of the debate on the Sessions nomination by a vote of 49-43.
The Senate voted on Wednesday, February 8 to confirm Senator Sessions to secede Attorney General Loretta Lynch as the nation’s top cop under the Trump Administration.
King wrote the letter in 1986 urging a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to reject then U.S. Attorney Sessions’ nomination for a district court judgeship. Coretta Scott King’s letter in part read that, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly Black voters. For this reprehensible conduct he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
The Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus released a blistering statement on the incident on the Senate floor hours later.
“Republican senators’ decision tonight to silence Coretta Scott King from the grave is disgusting and disgraceful,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, the chairman of the CBC, in a statement on the incident. “Mrs. King’s characterization of then U.S. Attorney Senator Sessions was accurate in 1986 and it is accurate now. He is as much of a friend to the Black community and civil rights as Bull Connor and the other Good Old Boys were during the Civil Rights Movement.”
Senators stood confused after that vote. Asking for points of order and clarifications on whether or not they could refer to anything negative about Senator Sessions.
Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King’s youngest daughter Bernice King tweeted in support of Warren shortly after Warren was silence by Republican objections. “How do you honor #MLK but dishonor #CorettaScottKing, architect of the King legacy? #LetCorettaSpeak#LetLizSpeak” she wrote.
Senator Sessions had already been criticized during his confirmation hearing for several issues related to race, voting and his actions as a prosecutor.
Sessions once called the gutting of the 2006 Voting Rights Act reauthorization named after Coretta Scott King, “good news for the South.” He also once prosecuted three individuals for voting fraud, including Albert Turner after they registered many in Alabama to vote.
The incident was the latest evidence that the coming years that mark the start of the Trump Administration are likely to be contentious ones on Capitol Hill.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com.