Confirm in Haste, Repent in Leisure: Congress Must Delay Hearings on Trump’s Attorney General

By Michael Slater December 15, 2016
Sen. Jefferson Sessions (Image: Gage Skidmore, CC 2.0)

America’s founding fathers built the U.S. Constitution on a system of checks and balances, and the prospect of a Trump administration demonstrates the crucial wisdom of that construction.

A reckless demagogue seemingly determined to populate the White House with generals, billionaires, and extreme ideologues would be troubling enough. When we also consider that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots, in an election tainted by evidence of foreign interference, Donald Trump pretty much personifies the reasons the U.S. Constitution places clear checks and limits on the powers of the executive branch.

But here’s the thing: checks and balances only work if the two other branches of government do their jobs.

As Trump’s minority government comes into power, it has never been more important for Congress, the people’s branch, to exercise its authority and serve its constitutional role. And Congress can send a message to Trump and the American people right now that they intend to do so by delaying the confirmation hearings of Trump’s choice for Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

Sessions has always been a horrifying choice for this position. The U.S. Attorney General is supposed to be the American people’s lawyer, and Jefferson Sessions has proven—throughout his long career—that he has a disregard for justice and a disdain for civil liberties. The Senate Judiciary Committee rightfully rejected his appointment to a federal judgeship 30 years ago due to his history of racist tendencies and prejudicial persecutions.

But now, the official questionnaire Sessions has submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee—basically his job application—is ridiculously incomplete. It has no record of his radio or print interviews prior to 2002, or any speeches he gave prior to 1999. It omits more than 40 op-eds he has published. It contains no mention of the fact that Sessions was considered, and rejected, for the federal judgeship in 1986. ­It does not provide the information requested, the basic information the Committee needs to make an informed decision.

We do not know if Sessions is simply careless, or if he has things to hide. But certainly—given the staggering revelations that emerged during his failed confirmation in 1986—we wonder what else Sessions might have said or done in his ensuing 30 years of public service that would disqualify him from this important post.

Trump has tried to fast-track Sessions’ confirmation, currently scheduled to begin January 10. Congress must delay these hearings until it can procure and examine the information it needs to fulfill its constitutionally mandated role in this vital process.  They need all the information before determining whether Sessions is qualified to be Attorney General. And the American people deserve to know who Jefferson Sessions really is, to assuage our profound doubts over whether Trump’s nominee for America’s top lawyer truly has the interests of all Americans at heart.

Checks and balances are the genius of the Constitution, and they have never been more important. The absence of a mandate, the questionable legitimacy of Trump’s administration, and the extremist nature of his appointees makes it crucial that Congress not simply rubber-stamp men like Jefferson Sessions.

To borrow a phrase from Trump’s own campaign rhetoric, we need Congress to implement “extreme vetting” of all of Trump’s nominees for positions of power. That’s their job, and, if they do it in haste, all of us may regret it for years to come.