Jeff Sessions is the final step in the GOP plan for permanent national political control
Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 12/29/2016, 6 a.m.
It’s no accident that GOP Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is speed dialing the confirmation hearings of Attorney General designate Jeff Sessions to the second week of January. It’s no accident that he has so far ignored all entreaties from skeptical Democratic Senators to delay the hearings. It’s also no accident that the GOP has made no issue of Session’s nominee questionnaire that cabinet picks must submit before confirmation hearings begin that has more gaping holes than swiss cheese.
Sessions is the GOP’s long-awaited point man to fulfill the GOP’s longest and fondest dream. That is its total domination of the national electorate. With that, the GOP will have a virtual lock on the federal government for years to come. To make that happen, the GOP must continue to discourage and damp down the number of minority and poor voters who can register to vote and who overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
The first step was the wave of naked voter suppression laws, initiatives and stumbling blocks that several GOP-dominated state legislatures enacted requiring rigid voter IDs, big scale backs in voting hours, limits, if not an end, to weekend voting, drastically restricted numbers of polling places and registrars in minority neighborhoods.
The second step was to saber rattle the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. The GOP floated several trial balloons in Congress. The first one was in 1981 when the Act came up for renewal. The deal in the initial passage of the Act was that it be renewed every 25 years. A few hardline ultraconservatives in the administration of then President Reagan administration made some loud threats to push Reagan to oppose its renewal. Reagan signed the renewal legislation. When the Act came up for renewal again in 2006, a pack of House Republicans stalled the legislation for more than a week and demanded that hearings be held. Bush eventually signed the renewal order.
But this opened the gate for the next step; take it to the Supreme Court. Three days after President Obama’s reelection in 2012 it demanded that the Court scrap the centerpiece of the Act, Section 5. That’s the provision that mandates that states get “preclearance” from the Justice Department before making any changes in voting procedures. The court did.
This wasn’t enough. The Voting Rights Act is still on the federal books. As long as it is it must be enforced. This puts it squarely in the lap of the Justice Department and the Attorney General. When the Justice Department was in the hands of Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, there was no cause for concern. In countless speeches and interviews, Holder made it clear that he would do everything within his department’s power to enforce the law to protect and, where possible, expand voting rights. He filed lawsuits against the more blatant suppression efforts in states and counties.
He also demanded that state legislatures do their part to expand voting rights by lifting the felon bans that bar tens of thousands of mostly black and Hispanic ex-felons from the polls. This is no small point. The five Deep South states, and other old Confederacy states, have been lock down GOP states. But the increased number of black and Hispanics in these states pose a mortal threat to continued GOP dominance in those states. That is if there are no barriers propped up to their registering and voting. The rigid maintenance of the ex-felon ban is key to the GOP ethnic cleanse of the polls in those vital states.
GOP Senate leaders and Trump’s transition team know that civil rights and civil liberties groups and many Democratic Senators will scream loud about Sessions and do everything possible to derail the confirmation. So, they have craftily launched a media and PR charm offensive. They now paint Sessions as practically a closet civil rights champion by citing his vote to extend the VRA, citing his alleged personal commitment to racial fairness, saying his past inflammatory remarks on race were taken out of context, and that he’s a genuinely warm and affable guy.
The VRA is the major roadblock to the range of GOP ploys to ensure that the bulk of America’s voting majority remains its majority. That is white, male conservatives, rural, blue collar voters in the Deep South and Heartland states. These are the voters that put Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., W. Bush and now Trump in the White House. They kept failed GOP presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney in the hunt for the Oval office. Sessions is the absolute key to make sure the GOP maintains its national control if it has its way into perpetuity.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.