Donald Trump sits with Jeff Sessions at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- The American Jewish Committee fought aggressively against the nomination of Jefferson Sessions to a federal district judgeship in 1986 over his "negative bias on civil rights and civil liberties issues, according to a press release from the time.
Sessions, who has been accused of racism against blacks over the course of his career, was tapped on Friday as President-elect Donald Trump's choice for attorney general of the United States. The appointment requires Senate confirmation.
Sessions currently represents Alabama in the upper chamber, and was the first US senator to endorse Trump for president.
"The American Jewish Committee's policy has generally been to abstain from commenting on judicial appointments, but we feel compelled to make one of our rare exceptions in this case," said one of its representatives. Sessions' bias, the statement continued, "cannot inspire confidence on the part of black American citizens who have occasion to appear before him in a federal courtroom that they would be treated no differently from white American citizens."
Throughout his confirmation process, Sessions characterized the NAACP and ACLU as "un-American" organizations, called a prominent white civil rights attorney in his state as "a disgrace to his race," referred to black staffers as "boy," joked about his tolerance for the Ku Klux Klan and lectured at least one black employee to be "careful" how he speaks to "white folks."
"Suffice it to say," the AJC representative, Hyman Bookbinder, continued, "the sum total of his remarks raises serious questions as to whether Mr. Sessions possesses the requisite qualities to serve."
In his confirmation hearings, Sessions pushed back against allegations of racism: "I am not a racist. I am not insensitive to blacks."
"I have done my job with integrity," he added.
While current AJC leadership has said it will decline to comment on individual presidential appointments, it released a statement on Thursday strongly suggesting concern with the way in which Trump is building his cabinet.
Trump has also tapped Stephen Bannon, head of alt-right website Breitbart, as chief White House strategist, as well as former General Michael Flynn, who characterizes Islam a dangerous political ideology, as national security adviser.
"We cherish our great nation and the unprecedented freedom and opportunity it affords, including the precious right to vote, free and fair elections, and smooth transfers of power from one administration to another," said David Harris, current CEO of AJC, in a Thanksgiving statement. "We take special pride in the American motto 'E pluribus unum.' Indeed, at AJC, we are, and have always been, passionate pluralists."
"The strength of our nation derives in such large measure from its rich tapestry of racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, Harris added. "We aspire to live in a society which doesn't simply 'tolerate' diversity, but welcomes it, seeing it as a vital component of who we are as a nation."