This week, Congress confirmed Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) to be Attorney General (AG) of the United States. NCADV remains concerned about AG Sessions becoming the top legal advocate for victims based on his confirmation testimony, voting record, and history of comments and statements, as noted below.
- Senator Sessions voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2013, claiming it was a politically motivated bill designed to make Republicans look bad. We doubt his commitment to robustly implementing and enforcing VAWA.
- After repeated questions from Senator Leahy during his confirmation hearing, Senator Sessions admitted that grabbing women’s genitalia without their consent is sexual assault. However, he failed to convince us that he understood the consequences of his previous statement to the contrary. When asked specifically about President Trump’s actions, Senator Sessions’ response that “the President is subject to certain lawful restrictions” was wholly inadequate. Sexual assault is far more serious than a transgression of an unspecified “lawful restriction.” NCADV will work with others and independently to educate and observe AG Sessions and this administration to ensure they understand the seriousness of and the impact sexual assault has on victims.
- The U.S. Attorneys who report to the Attorney General have sole or concurrent jurisdiction over prosecutions in Washington, DC, the U.S. Territories, and on tribal lands. Given his statement on sexual assault, we believe he cannot be relied upon to lead the prosecution of gender-based violence in these jurisdictions.
- Senator Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 due to a long record of racist statements and differential application of the law. Then, it was determined he couldn’t be trusted to render justice impartially. As Representative John Lewis said in Senator Sessions’ confirmation hearing, “It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help.” Time is not an indicator that AG Sessions has changed his views, and we cannot rely on him to protect all victims and survivors.
- He did not tell the Judiciary Committee he would enforce the law for all victims. His past comments suggesting that women and LGBTQ persons do not experience enough discrimination to warrant protection under the law suggests that his enforcement may be selective. We will be diligent in monitoring this administration to ensure that all victims and survivors do not also face discrimination in their quest for justice and their rights to protections and services.
- Senator Sessions has a long history of promoting bills and policies that keep immigrant victims and survivors in the shadows, making communities less safe. NCADV understands the myriad of barriers immigrant victims face when seeking safety, support and rights under the law. We intend to continue to serve as the voice for those victims.
- Senator Sessions said during his confirmation hearing, in response to Senator Leahy’s explanation of the high rates of victimization on tribal lands, that the provisions recognizing tribal jurisdiction “should not have been attached” to VAWA. As to enforcing that part of VAWA, Senator Sessions said “I didn’t support that provision. I would have to make a legal decision as to how that provision works.” When asked if he would defend tribal jurisdictions in court, he replied that he would “defend the statute if it’s reasonably defensible.” His answer makes it clear that he would not commit to protect Native victims of domestic and sexual violence. NCADV supports and will stand strong with our Native sisters and work with them and others to make sure this administration does them no further injustices.
NCADV plans to monitor Jeff Sessions’ actions as Attorney General to ensure the safety of domestic violence victims and survivors across the nation. As the voice of victims and survivors we continue our pledge: we will work to ensure victims of gender based violence receive respect, support and justice regardless of their circumstances, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability. #WeWillBeThere