Democratic senators have requested that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus be allowed to testify at the Jan. 10 confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, who has faced allegations of racism in the past.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, agreed to the request from top Democrat Dianne Feinstein last week, as long as civilian witnesses can testify before the Congressional Black Caucus lawmakers at the hearing, despite a tradition of lawmakers testifying in court before outside witnesses.
Democrats see this break in tradition as an insult to caucus members and a way for Republicans to distract from the testimony of Lewis, a respected longtime congressman and civil rights leader. The 76-year-old was in the news recently when he led a sit-in on the floor of Congress to encourage the enforcement of gun control.
Feinstein told Politico that Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus asked for the opportunity to testify at Sessions’ hearing last week and that the members’ voices “deserve to be heard” in light of racist allegations against Sessions that ended his 1986 nomination to the federal bench when presented before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the days before his hearing, Sessions has been accused of exaggerating his record as a civil rights lawyer. In an opinion piece by civil rights lawyers J. Gerald Hebert, Joseph D. Rich, and William Yeomans, they say Sessions mischaracterized his record in the questionnaire he filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee. These lawyers worked in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the 1980s, when the four civil rights cases Sessions listed among his 10 most significant cases as a lawmaker were being litigated, and they say Sessions’ role in these cases was small.
Despite Democrats’ insistence that Lewis and other lawmakers testify before outside, non-lawmaker witnesses, Grassley’s spokeswoman, Beth Levine, says that such an insistence is “unacceptable” because other witnesses have already been appointed a time to appear.
Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., has still not received a formal invitation to testify at Sessions’ hearing, but he assured Politico he will bring the issue of Sessions’ history with “communities of color” before the Judiciary Committee regardless.
Many of the non-lawmaker witnesses appointed to testify at the hearing are also well-known activists in the African-American community. Among them is Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Oscar Vasquez, U.S. veteran and “Dreamer.”