In a never-before-seen letter, civil rights activist and wife of the late Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott King voiced her staunch opposition to the federal U.S. judgeship nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions in 1986, asserting that allowing such an individual to serve as a judge would “irreparably damage the work of my husband.”
Sessions, who underwent a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to serve as Attorney General under President-elect Donald Trump, was nominated for a judgeship by former President Ronald Reagan but was ultimately rejected due to a series of alleged racist comments he made.
In her letter, obtained by The Washington Post, King urged Congress to block the Senator’s nomination and accused Sessions of using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by Black citizens in the district [where] he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.
“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate … the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” she wrote on the cover page of the letter.
King’s nine-page memo also alleged that the Attorney General nominee engaged in “politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions,” which ultimately prevented African-Americans from participating in the voting process. She went on to say Sessions lacked the “temperament, fairness and judgment it takes to be a federal judge,” arguing that his appointment to the bench “simply cannot be allowed to happen.”
“The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them of this most precious franchise,” she wrote. “In initiating the case, Mr. Sessions ignored allegations of similar behavior by whites, choosing instead to chill the exercise of the franchise by Blacks by his misguided investigation.”
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The Washington Post reported that King’s sharply worded letter opposing Sessions was a crucial part of the argument against his judgeship confirmation. Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has sole authority to publish the letter, but Buzzfeed News reported that King’s letter was never entered into the Congressional record by former Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond in the first place.
Now that the memo has been published, however, it could prove embarrassing for Sessions by digging up old allegations of racism. In the past, he was accused of referring to a Black federal prosecutor as “boy” and warning him that he’d better be cautious of how he talked to “white folks.” Sessions also allegedly joked that he had no issue with the KKK until he found out they smoked marijuana.
Moreover, the Senator was accused of speaking out against the Voting Rights Act and referring to prominent civil rights groups like the NAACP, ACLU and SCLC as “un-American” and “Communist inspired.”
The allegations are ultimately what derailed Sessions’ federal judgeship nomination.