During today's Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. attorney general, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, accused Sen. Sessions, R-Alabama, of misrepresenting the number of desegregation cases he filed as United States attorney in Alabama.
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“Our country needs an attorney general who doesn't misrepresent or inflate their level of involvement on any given issue,” Franken said.
In a 2009 interview with the National Review, Sessions said he handled “20 or 30” civil rights cases -- a claim he was not able to prove when pressed by Franken.
“Tell me, did you file 20 or 30 desegregation cases, or is it some other number?” Franken asked.
Sessions conceded that the number of desegregation cases he filed had been distorted, and blamed his memory.
“It is important, first, to be accurate,” Sessions said. “The records don't show that there were 20 or 30 actually filed cases. Some of the cases involve multiple defendants and multiple parties, like to a school board and a county commission being sued for racial discrimination or things of that nature, but the number would be less than that, as we've looked at.”
In a questionnaire submitted by Sessions for his Senate confirmation, he answered a prompt about the “ten most significant litigated matters you personally handled.”
Sessions answered that he personally litigated four civil rights cases during the 1980s, but Franken challenged the level of his actual involvement.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, three former Department of Justice attorneys, J. Gerald Hebert, Joseph D. Rich, William Yeomans, wrote that Sessions had “no substantive involvement” in any of the desegregation cases referenced by Sessions, an accusation Sessions denied.
The three attorneys wrote in their op-ed: “We worked in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which brought those lawsuits; we handled three of the four ourselves. We can state categorically that Sessions had no substantive involvement in any of them. He did what any U.S. attorney would have had to do: He signed his name on the complaint, and we added his name on any motions or briefs. That’s it."
Franken said that while he’s not a lawyer, he thinks "filed" means more than having a name at the top of a case.
“We need to be accurate in what we say,” Sessions said. “When this issue was raised, I did do a supplemental that said I provided assistance and guidance to civil rights division of attorneys and had an open door policy with them and cooperated with them on these cases. I signed them. I supported cases, and I attempted to be as effective as I could be in helping them be successful in these historic cases. I do feel that they were the kind of cases that were national in scope and deserved to be listed on the form. If I'm in error, I apologize to you. I don't think I was.”