Can Jeff Sessions Fairly Evaluate Sonia Sotomayor?

Sen. Jeff Sessions and Sonia Sotomayor i i

hide captionSupreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor recently met with Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Jeff Sessions and Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor recently met with Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

In July, Sen. Jeff Sessions has a chance to pass judgment on the nomination to the Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor, whom several conservative pundits have criticized as being racist. The lines at issue are from a speech Sotomayor gave back in October 2001, when she said:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

But some wonder whether Sessions can evaluate Sotomayor fairly.

In 1986, then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions was himself in the hot seat after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship. His nomination was later rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee, in part because of testimony by J. Gerald Hebert, a former senior trial attorney in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.

The 'Communist' NAACP

In a recent interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Hebert, who had several encounters with Sessions prior to his nomination by Reagan, recalls:

"When the NAACP would come up, he [Sessions] would snidely remark that it was a 'pinko' organization, or communist inspired," recalls Hebert. "[Sessions] seemed to have a unprogressive attitude toward race and equal opportunity."

A Reformed Jeff Sessions?

Although its been over 20 years since Hebert's testimony, he stops short of saying Sessions — or his perspectives — may have changed.

"I would still have concerns, frankly, today, just knowing the public persona of Jeff Sessions that I've seen over the years," says Hebert.

But when asked if Sessions can be fair, Hebert says so reluctantly.

"I hope he can. I assume he can, and I think he can," he says. "I really don't know what's inside his head or his heart. But I do think that someone — hopefully over 20-something years — has learned something about the disadvantaged or minorities that clearly continue to struggle."

Hear the full interview with J. Gerald Hebert by clicking the "Listen" button in the upper left-hand corner.

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