NAACP and Other Groups Hold Sit-In at Sessions at Grassley’s Senate Offices


NAACP president Cornell William Brooks and members of dozens more interest groups staged a sit-in Friday at the Des Moines office of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to press him to block the confirmation of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Late in the afternoon, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security ordered the demonstrators to stop video taping the sit-in, and seven demonstrators remained, said Valerie Horford, a spokeswoman for the group. Among those who remained was Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Redditt Hudson, field organizer for the NAACP.

The NAACP, the Iowa AFL-CIO and 56 other groups that are part of a coalition called the Democracy Initiative oppose Sessions, a Republican, as chief of the Justice Department because of several of his statements, including hints he might rollback advances the Obama administration has made against alleged police misconduct, that he believes the Ku Klux Klan is “OK,” and that he supports broad immigration reform. They also cite his opposition to the Voting Rights Act, which he once referred to as “intrusive legislation.”

“It is the ultimate irony that we are going to have to break the law in order to ensure that we have an attorney general who will enforce the law … most assuredly, the Voting Rights Act,” Brooks told USA TODAY.

“The attorney general of the United States holds the sacred responsibility of advocating for all the people of our nation, most importantly for those among us who most need a champion,” Democracy Initiative executive director Wendy Fields said. “We strongly oppose the confirmation of Sen. Sessions for this critical post because his position and record conflict with core democratic values.”

Brooks also said he and the other demonstrators were focused on the issue of mass incarceration, and they are concerned Sessions might rollback progress made in reducing disparities in the criminal justice system.

“We have an attorney general nominee who supports mandatory minimum sentences … in a Congress that wants to bring this era of mass incarceration to an end,” Brooks said. “And so when you look at this nominee from voting rights to the protection of LGBT rights to the civil rights policing sentencing, he is bad pick at a particularly bad time.”

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine confirmed that the group staged a sit-in at Grassley’s Des Moines office and said that Brooks had an opportunity to be heard when he testified before Grassley’s committee at the group’s invitation.

“His (Sen. Grassley’s) staff again listened to the points raised by the Iowans and by Mr. Brooks, just as they did when he testified as a guest of the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, where Mr. Brooks refused to answer whether there was any Republican he could support for attorney general,” Levine said. “Throughout the hearing Senator Sessions reaffirmed the fundamental position that as attorney general, he would enforce the law, even if he disagreed with it as a policy matter. As Sen. Grassley said at the hearing, Sen. Sessions is the right choice to lead the Justice Department at this critical time.”

Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment. After a previous protest against Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general, Flores offered details on black officials in Alabama who endorsed the senator.

The sit-in marks the second such protest in which the NAACP is taking part.

Brooks and five other NAACP leaders were arrested in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 3 after staging a sit-in at Sessions’ office there to urge Sessions to remove himself from the confirmation process. The group was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and must appear in court in Mobile on Jan. 30.

Source: USA TODAY | Melanie Eversley