Why Was Jeff Sessions Rejected In 1986 As A Federal Judge? Fellow Republicans Couldn't Back Him

On Friday, Donald Trump announced he had selected Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as his Attorney General. This isn’t the first time Sessions has been put up for a Senate-confirmed position, however. In the 1980s, Sessions was nominated by Ronald Reagan to a federal judgeship in Alabama. Why wasn’t Sessions appointed as a federal judge? There were serious concerns and allegations over racially charged comments he made.

During his Senate confirmation hearing in 1986, the judiciary committee heard testimony that Sessions had made racist comments, referring to Thomas Figures, a black assistant U.S. attorney who worked with him, as “boy.” Figures also said that Sessions thought the Klu Klux Klan was "OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana." During the Senate confirmation hearing, Justice Department lawyer J. Gerald Hebert said that Sessions had called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American,” according to the transcripts from it, as reported by CNN.

In the end, the Republican-led committee voted 10-8 against recommending Sessions’ nomination, with two Republicans joining Democrats to vote against his appointment. Among his detractors was Democratic Alabama Sen. Howell Heflin, who had favored Sessions’ appointment earlier on, but said he had “reasonable doubts” about his ability to remain fair and impartial. When Heflin did not run for reelection in 1996, Sessions won his Senate seat.

Sessions was an early backer of Trump’s in the Republican primary, endorsing the party outsider in February. “I told Donald Trump this isn’t a campaign, this is a movement,” Sessions said at a Trump rally in Madison, Alabama. “The American people are not happy with their government.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will still need to confirm Sessions’ appointment, though since the Senate will be under the Republican’s control, they should be able to approve Sessions’ nomination over any dissent from Democrats. Still, it’s important to remember that Sessions’ earlier failed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing also failed with a Republican majority.

Nevertheless, in this brave new Trumpbublican world, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sessions’ nomination sails through, despite any challenge the Democrats are able to muster. In fact, it would seem downright appropriate (if not wholly horrifying) that a white racist glides into the Attorney General’s post, while it took Loretta Lynch, our nation’s first African-American female Attorney General more than a five-month long nomination ordeal.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

That being said, Sessions' nomination will be an early proving ground for the Democrats to show they’re not going to simply roll over and play dead for the GOP.