“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge,” civil-rights activist Coretta Scott King wrote in a letter (PDF) to judiciary committee chairman Strom Thurmond in 1986. “This simply cannot be allowed to happen.” This is the line Senator Elizabeth Warren read aloud on the Senate floor Tuesday night, and it’s the line that prompted Senate Republicans to vote she’d “impugned the motives” of Sessions, who’s up for confirmation in his role as attorney general.
Warren was subsequently barred from speaking on Sessions at all – “I’ve been red-carded,” she told MSNBC. But at least four senators — Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, New Mexico senator Tom Udall, Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — have since read the same passage out loud on the floor.
King sent Thurmond the letter when Jeff Sessions was up for a federal district judgeship in Alabama. In it, she says Sessions acted against the interests of the civil-rights movement, which was led by her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It has been a long uphill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote,” she wrote. “A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.”
According to Warren, the letter doesn’t “impugn” Sessions but “describe[s] a moment in history in which [he] was an active participant.” “Republicans don’t want to hear it,” she said on the View Wednesday, where she read several more passages from the letter. “They want to find a way to shut it down.” Read the full text of King’s letter here.