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Sen. Jeff Sessions was just confirmed as the next attorney general

Senate Committee Votes On Nomination Of Scott Pruitt To Lead EPA Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was confirmed as the next attorney general in a near party-line vote on the Senate floor on Wednesday night.

As the head of the Justice Department, Sessions will be the nation’s top law-enforcement officer and oversee its more than 100,000 employees.

Democrats had sought to derail Sessions’s nomination, highlighting that the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination to the federal bench in 1986 because of charges that he’d unfairly targeted three black civil rights activists for prosecution.

“At first glance, it seems almost inexplicable that Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions appears to be floating effortlessly toward confirmation as attorney general, a full 30 years after the Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination to be a federal judge because of his history of racism,” political scientist Mark Schmitt wrote in a piece for Vox on January 11.

Democrats found Sessions so objectionable that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) became the first US senator to testify against a colleague who was up for a Cabinet nomination. Ultimately, 47 Democratic senators voted against Sessions, while 52 Republicans voted Wednesday night to confirm him. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only Democrat to support Sessions, while Sessions himself voted present.

Vox’s German Lopez wrote that Sessions will “be a massive setback for civil rights,” and detailed how he stands to move the Justice Department in a conservative direction on issues ranging from voting rights to immigration enforcement to investigations of police brutality:

[Sessions has] opposed reforms to reduce mass incarceration, proposed stringent crackdowns on immigration, and he even has a history of racist remarks that ended his hopes of a federal judgeship. And that’s not even getting to other issues, from voting rights to discrimination against LGBTQ people, where Sessions has been equally conservative …

As attorney general, Sessions won’t be able to set law, but he will have a lot of power in guiding how the law is interpreted and enforced. Particularly on criminal justice and voting rights, this makes Sessions a big threat for reformers and civil rights advocates who made gains during President Barack Obama’s time in office — but will likely see many of those gains erased under Sessions.

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