Pat Leahy busts Jeff Sessions for trying to rewrite his record on LGBT hate crimes legislation
At the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, Democratic Senator Pat Leahy confronted Sessions with his own words. Sessions tried to deny he had said them, but Leahy did not let him get away with it.
At his confirmation hearing for the position of Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was confronted by Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) for saying that women and LGBT people did not experience the sort of discrimination that hate crimes legislation addresses.
Sessions responded with the twin defenses that he had said no such thing, and/or that it was taken “out of context.” Leahy pushed back on that denial:
LEAHY: In 2009, I offered the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the defense bill. It extended hate crimes protections to LGBT individuals, women, and individuals with disabilities. It passed the Senate overwhelmingly. You opposed it. You stated at a hearing that you’re not sure women or people of different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. And then you said, “I just don’t see it.” Do you still believe women and LGBT individuals do not face the kind of discrimination that the hate crimes legislation was passed to prevent?
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman — Senator Leahy, having discussed that issue at some length, that does not sound like something I said or intended to say.
LEAHY: You did say it.
SESSIONS: I understand, but I’ve seen things taken out of context and not give an accurate picture. My view is, and was, a concern that it appeared that these cases were being prosecuted effectively in state courts where they would normally be expected to be prosecuted.
As is usually the case, context is not the Republican’s friend. According to the Federal News Service transcript of that hearing, Sessions did say that exact thing, and the context confused even the anti-trans zealot he was questioning:
SEN. SESSIONS: …It did exist, Ms. Cohen, in the South throughout much of our history, and we have that Civil Rights Act that allowed that to happen. It was justified, as I said in my opening statement, because the facts justified that. You know the discrimination. African Americans couldn’t go to certain schools. They couldn’t use certain restrooms. There were other kinds of routine biases against them. Out of that was how this bill passed.
But today I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it. So I believe that if they are harassed or discriminated unfairly, we probably have the laws — I believe we have the laws to fix it.
So what the question would be, is this one necessary? And I’m not sure that it is. And, matter of fact, I don’t think that it is, based on what I know.
If you take these examples of crimes that — I asked the attorney general about — I thought about one. Let me ask you, Ms. Heriot. An individual, perhaps, let’s say hypothetically, is angry that the husband left his sister alone with a bunch of children and he takes up a homosexual lifestyle which he thinks is bad and he attacks this former brother-in-law. Would that —
MS. HERIOT: I’m getting confused over the theory of relativity here.
SEN. SESSIONS: Well, the question would be, would that cover the circumstance?
MS. HERIOT: You’re going to have to run the facts by me again there.
SEN. SESSIONS: Okay. The facts would be that let’s say a man left his wife, his children —
MS. HERIOT: Okay.
SEN. SESSIONS: — and adopted a homosexual lifestyle.
And at a later Senate session on the bill, Sessions went on to argue, again quoting anti-LGBT activist Gail Heriot, against including women and disabled people on the basis that women and disabled people are just logical victims of crime:
Rapists, I am quoting from the Civil Rights Commission’s letter, rapists are seldom indifferent to the gender of their victims. They are virtually always chosen because of their gender. A robber might well steal only from women or the disabled because, in general, they are less able to defend themselves. Literally, these victims are chosen because of their gender or disability. And the letter goes on to state their belief that every rape in America could now be declared, or would now be declared, a crime under this bill, because it is an action taken against someone because of their gender.
Sessions went on to suggest that LGBT people were only interested in the hate crimes bill to make money, so much so that they did not really even want to pass it:
Perhaps Mr. Andrew Sullivan—an openly gay man who has pioneered the effort to have gays in the military and is a well known and an able writer, had this to say about the legislation. “The real reason for hate crime laws is not the defense of human beings from crimes. There are already laws against that—and Matthew Shepard’s murderers were successfully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in a State that had no hate crime law at the time. The real reason for the invention of hate crimes was a hard left critique of conventional liberal justice and the emergence of special interest groups which need boutique legislation to raise funds for their large staffs and luxurious buildings. Just imagine how many direct mail pieces have gone out explaining that without more money, more gay human beings will be crucified on fences. It is very, very powerful as a money-making tool, which may explain why the largely symbolic Federal bill still has not passed.”
Taken in this context, Sessions’ words are even more damning, and his long and terrible record on civil rights is well-documented. Leahy did an exceptional job of holding him accountable for this portion of it, and for bringing his reprehensible views to light.