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Politics & Government

Sessions Hasn't Done Enough To Stop Voter Supression, Simelton Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And earlier this week, the presidents of both the national and Alabama branches of the NAACP were arrested during peaceful sit-ins at the offices of Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for U.S. attorney general, and the NAACP vigorously opposes his appointment.

Bernard Simelton is the NAACP president in Alabama. He joined us from Huntsville to tell us why he opposes Sessions' nomination.

BERNARD SIMELTON: First of all, we oppose the Senator Sessions' nomination for the attorney general because of his previous comments that he made, everything from calling the NAACP un-American, calling us communist-inspired. And we believe that he is not a champion for voting rights issues. And I'm not saying he's for voter suppression, but he's not doing anything to stop voter suppression in his own state as well as, you know, across the country.

GREENE: There's a spokesperson for Senator Sessions who has said that much of what you're talking about and some of the things that he has said are tired and recycled charges. And I mean, we should say that they came up three decades ago. And Senator Sessions was rejected, I mean, by a Republican Congress when he was going for a federal judgeship because of his record on race.

SIMELTON: Right.

GREENE: But it's been some time now. I mean, can a person evolve? Could Jeff Sessions be a different person now?

SIMELTON: If Senator Sessions has changed his ways over the years, why does he continue to vote against voting rights expansion? Why does he continue to vote against immigration policies? Why does he continue to vote against things like the Lilly Ledbetter Act that was supposed to make women's pay equal to men?

GREENE: Do those things rise to the level where senators should oppose Jeff Sessions, or are those just issues on which there's a lot of very passionate disagreement?

SIMELTON: When you look at what the attorney general's responsibilities are, we cannot have someone in there that's going to not enforce some of the laws because he does not believe in them. If the issue comes up to him where there's a pay inequity and he has voted against it, is he going to be able to look at that and decide and help his staff make the right decision when it comes to discrimination and just pay discrimination and immigration issues? Is he going to be able to do that? And again, based on his recent past history, the answer is no.

GREENE: Well, OK - can I ask you about some things he has done recently? I mean, he was part of a push to desegregate Alabama schools when he was a U.S. attorney. He also demanded the death penalty for a person who killed an African-American teen. And that person was a son of a Ku Klux Klan leader.

Does that show a different Jeff Sessions than the one you're describing?

SIMELTON: Well, no - that's showing that, you know, he's doing what he was supposed to do. That's not doing that his heart is passionate for one way or the other. That's just showing that, you know, he was doing his job. You got to be a person that can look at issues, you know, fair and square and without a bent towards, you know, one way or the other.

GREENE: What is your message to Democratic senators in Washington who may share some of your concerns but decide that they don't rise to the level of blocking a nomination? And perhaps they know Senator Sessions from working with him in the Senate and they decide to support him.

SIMELTON: Well, my message to them is to not give him a free pass when it comes to the confirmation hearings but to ask the very tough questions that Senator Sessions has asked people to have come before him before.

GREENE: So he has actually been in the other role of questioning potential attorney general nominations.

SIMELTON: Right. Yeah, he's a member of the judiciary committee.

GREENE: You know, I noticed in the NAACP's news release that you referred to Senator Sessions by his full, formal name, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

SIMELTON: Right - third. Right.

GREENE: I wondered if there was some message in that. I mean, if there...

SIMELTON: Well, that's his name.

GREENE: I mean, are you invoking, like, an echo of a different time and an older American South?

SIMELTON: Well, you know, some people have said - well, he was named after Confederate generals. Well, you know, a person's name - you know, they don't have choice with that. But that's his name, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. And so that's why we put that in there. You know, just like with President Obama, you know, when he was elected, I mentioned something about, you know, Barack Hussein Obama. We are just saying that's his name.

GREENE: What's next for you?

SIMELTON: Well, we had a meeting with our NAACP leaders, and we don't rule out any additional sit-ins and protests. And, you know, we may do a prayer vigil the day of his confirmation hearing or the day before it begins. And there are some of us that's going up to D.C. to see if there's any way that we can be a part of the people who testify and participate in that as much as we can.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to Bernard Simelton. He is president of the Alabama chapter of the NAACP.

Thanks so much for your time.

SIMELTON: OK, thank you. And I appreciate you all giving me this opportunity again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.