WELLS — Years ago, a colleague alerted me that conservative Republican Sen. Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions of Alabama – the man now nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next attorney general – had cited me in a May 9, 2002, Senate speech.

I soon learned that Sessions had, indeed, referred to my 1990 book, “Supremely Political: The Role of Ideology and Presidential Management in Unsuccessful Supreme Court Nominations.” I eagerly anticipated reading the senator’s remarks. Once I did, however, the reality of the nitty-gritty world of politics somewhat shattered my anticipation.

Sessions used my book to justify his position that senators should not employ political ideology in their deliberations on whether to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. He was upset that, for reasons of “political ideology,” liberal senators had opposed the Supreme Court nominations of William Rehnquist, Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, as well as his own appointment to the lower federal bench.

Session argued that senators should not consider a nominee’s political beliefs in assessing any judicial nominations made by then-Republican President George W. Bush.

The Alabama senator’s speech clearly implied that I had concluded that senators throughout the history of the United States had rarely considered a judicial nominee’s political views. Supposedly arguing from the weight of history and using “Supremely Political” to do so, Sessions concluded that because ideology had not been generally employed in past deliberations, it should not be a factor in present ones.

In his view, the Senate should only consider a Supreme Court nominee’s legal knowledge, temperament and ethics, not his or her political positions. Sessions concluded that consideration of a nominee’s ideology was “clearly the historical exception and not the historical rule.”

I do not deny Sessions’ right to make the argument he made in 2002. I do, however, protest his manipulative use of my book to support his argument.

In “Supremely Political,” after examining all Supreme Court nominations made through 1990, I clearly conclude just the opposite of what Sessions has alleged. In the book I argue, “Senators have been inclined to favor, and overlook the criticisms of, those potential justices whose ideology they supported, while denying similar treatment to those whose ideology they opposed.”

In contrast to Sessions’ stated view of the history of Supreme Court nominations, I concluded the following in regard to the Senate’s consideration of a nominee’s ideology: “From the early days of the republic, senators have generally reacted to Supreme Court nominations on the basis of whether or not they were in agreement with the nominee.”

Sessions’ opposing view would be counterproductive to the constitutional role assigned the Senate in such deliberations. In “Supremely Political,” I note further that considering a nominee’s political ideology “assists in keeping the Court in step with the prevailing public mood. When the Senate refuses to confirm a Supreme Court nominee on ideological grounds, it reaffirms that the appointment of justices is a shared power in which the president maintains substantial discretion but not without limits.”

I go on to state that “when the president seeks to appoint individuals whose views are perceived as not reflecting the prevailing view of the people … the Senate can and indeed has refused to confirm Supreme Court nominations.”

What does this say about Sessions’ ability to serve as attorney general of the United States? The Alabama senator already faces considerable opposition because of other considerations. It has been reported that he once joked in the presence of an African-American prosecutor that he’d thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he learned they smoked marijuana. He has also reportedly called that same prosecutor “boy” and labeled the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”

I will let others ultimately judge Sessions’ qualifications to serve as this nation’s chief law enforcement officer and as the head of the Justice Department. Still, I can only conclude that his palpable and likely self-serving misrepresentation of my work occurred for one of several reasons.

He never really read “Supremely Political.” He read it but erred seriously in understanding what I was saying. He read it and understood its conclusions but, nonetheless, decided to cherry-pick a small part that supposedly supported his preconceived position and conveniently misinterpreted or ignored the rest to further his own political agenda.

If any one of these is correct, he has disqualified himself as a nominee for attorney general because he cannot effectively read, understand and present the essence of a straightforward political argument.


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