Coretta Scott King is one of those figures in American life who is virtually immune from all criticism. To even hint that she might have done anything dishonest or untoward will immediately get you attacked as an enemy of minorities and of civil rights - so sainted and sacrosanct a figure is Mrs. King. Without a doubt, that is one of the reasons Elizabeth Warren tried to hide behind Mrs. King’s 1986 letter denouncing Jeff Sessions during the now-infamous Senate floor speech that saw her silenced by Mitch McConnell for violation of Senate Rule XIX.
This is the rule that forbids senators from taking gratuitous personal shots at each other. It is certainly true that the rule has been enforced inconsistently, although the rule is legitimate and currently in force. Sen. Warren is now being portrayed as some sort of martyr for being made to sit down and shut up.
But let’s put aside the Senate procedures and the application thereof, and look at what Sen. Warren was actually saying. Here is the letter she was trying to read:
At issue was a 1984 case in which three black defendants were charged with falsifying and illegally altering absentee ballots as part of a larger effort to bolster the black vote in a racially contentious election. Sessions believed that the evidence warranted prosecution, but it was a sticky situation because one of the parties that would benefit from that decision was a group of white supremacists, although the man who actually filed the complaint was black.
Does that demonstrate Sessions is a) a racist; or b) hostile toward civil rights? Coretta Scott King and Elizabeth Warren would have you believe so. But as Alexandra DeSanctis explained in a piece last month for National Review, neither was true. It simply demonstrated that Sessions followed the law without favor to any particular party:
When white voters used the absentee-voting process to keep their vote totals up in this region and overwhelm the burgeoning black vote, Turner and his fellow activists started making house calls to help black individuals fill out absentee ballots and mail them in. Before the 1984 primaries, suspecting Turner and his group of possible illegal activity, the district attorney and a black candidate from the black-and-white coalition requested that the state’s U.S attorney investigate. That attorney was Jeff Sessions.
In the course of this investigation, Sessions stationed an agent outside the Perry County post office, and the agent witnessed the Turners and their fellow activist, Spencer Hogue, mailing hundreds of absentee ballots. An FBI inspection of these ballots revealed that 75 appeared to have been erased or remarked; that number was later reduced to 27.
The NYT reports that, at the conclusion of the ensuing investigation, “Albert and Evelyn Turner and Spencer Hogue were indicted in January 1985 on 29 counts, for mail fraud, conspiracy to commit voting fraud and voting more than once.” But in the end, all three were acquitted.
Though the complaining candidate in this case was also a black man, it seems evident that there was demonstrable racial animus on the part of those Sessions helped by bringing the case. But bringing the case happened to be Sessions’s job as a U.S. attorney, and there’s no evidence that his decision to do so was motivated by any racism on his part. In fact, as the case was brought back into the spotlight in the context of Sessions’s confirmation hearing, the Turners’ son, Albert Turner Jr. — who currently serves as a Perry County commissioner — released a letter endorsing Sessions for the position of attorney general
The job of a prosecutor is to enforce the law equally for everyone, without regard to who benefits and who is negatively effected when he does so. It may very well be true that the rivals of Albert Turner and his cohorts in this campaign were pretty nasty people. But if Sessions had evidence that the Turners and Mr. Hogue violated the law, it was his job to bring charges. To not do so because he preferred the ideology or philosophy of those under investigation - which appears to be what Mrs. King thought he should have done - would be to make him derelict in his duties.
This should not be forgotten in the hulabaloo over the “silencing” or Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor last night. The reason Rule XIX exists is to prevent one senator from lodging slanderous personal attacks against a colleague. That is exactly what Sen. Warren was doing by reading from this letter. The fact that the letter-writer was the sainted Coretta Scott King does not change the facts in the case, about which she was completely and totally wrong.
The left has been trying to use this case for decades to tar Jeff Sessions as a dirty racist. He is not, and everything about his career in public service demonstrates that he is not. In 1984, he was a prosecutor following the facts wherever they led him. As attorney general of the United States, there is every reason to believe he would do the exact same thing.
So if Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want to get muzzled, maybe next time she should avoid giving voice to slander about a colleague.
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