NAACP LDF President Sherrilyn Ifill Talks Sen. Sessions and Civil Rights

ABC News' Arlette Saenz chats with the NAACP LDF president about her stance on responses by Sen. Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing.
12:11 | 01/11/17

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Transcript for NAACP LDF President Sherrilyn Ifill Talks Sen. Sessions and Civil Rights
I mean he sees Ireland sign somewhere outside the hearing room for the Senate Judiciary Committee where senator Jeff Sessions has had his confirmation hearing to begin next attorney general Donald Trump's. Take for that and today right now we are giants by the president the NAACP legal defense fund Sherlund Eiffel who has been here at hearings on day. But what have you thought about what's happened so far. Well to parts of it that have been very disturbing to hear senator sessions essentially described his. Forty year history it's very parent and well documented. As a caricature to hear him describe the prosecution. And Mary and 33 black civil rights activists. As a voting rights case this criminal prosecution unsuccessful prosecution he brought against him to hear him talk about them as though they acts that they were accused of committing. Were in fact true when in fact they were committed those things are difficult. Humble what's been more important I think in many ways is. To make sure that people don't lose the fact that we really aren't just talking about 1985 and 1986. And has been heartening to hear. The questions that have been asked about the about the nominee's position on the violence against women act and Lilly Ledbetter equal pay act. He is his views on immigration. Is you know endorsement of president elect from despite president elect Tom statements about these issues. I'm so it's been heartening to hear that I hope that it's coming through I think the last round of questioning about consent decrees that those of us who. Are engaged in the issue of policing reform and for everyone in America who cares about that issue. And it was it was disturbing to hear the nominee talk about consent decrees. And after pattern and practice investigations and has to suggested deep skepticism. Of the role of the Department of Justice can play in helping local jurisdictions reform policing. I think anyone who's read the report about the kind of policing that was happening in Baltimore where the kind of law enforcement practices that would happening in Ferguson. Would agree that they needed to be reformed and that without the intervention of the Department of Justice more of the same would have happened victimizing of the for an African American community. And yet when you heard. Senator sessions you heard deep skepticism you great deference to local police departments you heard hesitation in an unwillingness to robustly use. The powers of the Department of Justice to ensure that police it is happening and it it in a constitutionally at the local level so this is something of great concern that we'll have to watch pointless. One issue that came up its controversial topic in this one last round of questioning was about the Muslim write history and he actually sent that he does not support that it was out at least allow them. There are many and statements like that that we've made any statements I think that he'd have to make to get confirmed as attorney general right that he doesn't believe in a Muslim registry. That he would follow roe vs Wayne. That marriage equality is settled law he said all of those all of those things and I'm heartened that he sent them. The devil will be in the details and in. I'm really how vigorously he is prepared to Marshal the resources of the Department of Justice to do just that what does he mean when he says so I settled law. Roe vs. Wade is settled law what does he think about. Planned Parenthood vs KC what does he think about some of the subsequent cases that came after rumors is way he says that marriage equality is settled on what precisely does he mean by that and and what does he think about individuals. Like you know that woman that many of us remember who. Refused out out of what she said were her religious beliefs to marry. The same sex couples so it really did details of what he precisely needs. Is is really I think what's important saying I don't support and Muslim registry is one thing. But it's be heard. Earlier he talked about you know concerns about about religion and house on people's religious views. On May make them a threat to this country. I'd like to hear more about how he. It really reconcile all of those views freedom of religion. And civil rights and civil liberties with some of the more extreme views that not only heat that's expressed in the past. But that the president elect. Expressed when he was on the campaign trail with him during that time on the campaign trail. The nominees never repudiated any of the things that the president's and is now building the wall about a Mexican attention Mexican descent. Not being able to be impartial. And these are all opportunities for someone like senator sessions has been US attorney with the attorney general of his state who is a lawyer to say you know even if I support this can be I don't stand with that that can't be true. But he didn't say that and so the fact that he's seeing it now as he seeks to be the attorney general. Well I'm glad he's saying it but it is a little late and I'm a little skeptical so what would you have to hear from him now to change your mind I think it's a more expansive. Discussion of these issues I think it's really not enough to say you know rovers latest model and I want to hear. This is what I intend to do you understand what this means I understand what it means to win it. I do I you know here he talks about himself being pro life that's perfectly fine. But he's saying he's alive how then does he intend to ensure. That women are protected its limits and so forth what are the kinds of resources thinking that Marshall and how is he going team. Reconcile his long held beliefs he's been in the senate for very long time. House he suddenly going to become this person that you just described a person who only follows the law and leaves aside politics and their views about policy. How does he intend to do that how is going to make that transition I think we can't just assume that it happens by magic. And I think given many of the statements that he's made in the past that are amply. Set out in the record. And the statements that the president elect has said as he has been endorsed him as their nominee has stood behind him. We were entitled to a little bit more detail. And just the unadorned point on a joint statement that I will follow the law we'd like to know that Monica how do you intended and and what do you say to people who don't have confidence. To Myron out of pretty unprecedented moment when we have senator Booker. Congressman John Lewis alone right thank god congressman center Richmond testifying what message do you expect the three of them to bring when they testify again since sept I think it's important for them to bring the message. A some of what was alluded to by senators today that the right people all over this country particularly African Americans. Who truly fear. What may happen to civil rights that have been long fought for. Time you know under this new administration and that the department of justice and the attorney general plays a vital role. That the attorney general is the chief enforcer at the nation's civil rights laws and so I expect those witnesses to come forward and talk about. The reason for those fears to legitimate reason I heard some of you know. The ways in which as senators supporting. I'm the nominee today almost dismissed the concerns it's impossible that it it that somehow it's all been made up it's all fabricated. It's it's all it's only reasonable for people to have any fears but that senator sessions will be a strong enforcer of civil rights but that's just absurd. That's absurd on his record and it's actually insulting to millions of people who have reason to fear and it's insulting to those of. Let's who have been engaged in this work for a very long time so I expect those witnesses to to come forward to take you've got to take this serious. This is not you don't get to dismiss millions of people simply because you don't understand them your obligation. As members of this committee is to represent the American people and to take seriously the fears and concerns to its accident record that has been amassed. By people who have a very different view that senator sessions take seriously what he said in the past. And to not allow. You know your feelings of friendship towards him. Two keep you from doing the rigorous job that you have to do so I expect them to two to talk about that. I I think it will be you know I think it will be a strong presentation. I'm it will also be instinct to hear the questions that they're asked by the senate but this is the kind of dynamic dialogue that should be happening this is an important position. A critically important position for African Americans. And this cannot be rubber stamped. The hearing is supposed to be a real opportunity to grapple with the record that this person that's been in public life. For more than forty years has amassed he's not enough as he's not needed to seen. And we have a right to really wrestle this. The conduct that he's engaged in the statements that he's made and to try to reconcile them with the presentation that he's making. Senator Tom cotton actually came out and criticize senator barker and the congressman for testifying tomorrow saying that they shouldn't be breaking with president thinks should be giving. A senator sessions this courtesy what what do you think about it. I don't think that courtesy or protocol. In in any way overcomes the constitutional obligation of advice and consent. Which is what the senate. Is empowered to do an authorized to do in the United States constitution. With with these cabinet picks backstage it's a job. It's a job and you know we all have friends. And we'll have people that we'd like. But if we have to make a determination as to whether or not they are qualified for position of responsibility. That involves. One of the pillars of our democracy the rule of law. That involves control over the FBI and Bureau of Prisons and immigration judges and civil rights division. And the lives of millions of people and the character of our very country one would hope. That a senator would think that courtesy and protocol. Would take a backseat to obligation responsibility. Constitutional authority. And really be in importance of represented the American people in this process. Offering advice and consent and this is just the first. Confirmation hearing that we had free triumph cabinet nominees. Are there any other nominees that you are particularly concerned about as we head into more hearings this week and next week. Well of course we're concerned about the nominee for the secretary of education because. Education is still remains an important and critical part of my work in that. Federal a Department of Education plays a vital role. In ensuring that local school districts fulfill their obligations to provide educational equity racial equity. Two ensure that there's not the promotion of racial segregation. So the nomination pentagon boss it has now been postponed until January 17. Is of importance to us and of course. Housing and urban development that nominee is a doctor and Carson. The lobbying personally very accomplished at physician and surgeon has no experience in housing and development in urban planning. Hands and we take very seriously. A high because. The issue of racial segregation and residential segregation continues to lie at the heart of our communities all of the studies show that the United States. Is is deeply. Segregated residential segregated residential segregation is the precursor to educational segregation. And so we take quite seriously. Do the role of the Hud secretary what happens in public housing. Is is vitally important. And what happens in terms of the decision that communities making their obligation to affirmatively further. A fair housing to affirmatively further integrated housing. Is also vitally important so we want to have a cabinet secretary who understands those issues who can demonstrate its commitment to the principles the fair housing act. Which was enacted in 1968. In the in the days after my thinking was assassinated. We take very seriously the fair housing act it's one of the war. I'm civil rights statutes so we want to hear and we want to see the secretary that understands the significance of that fair housing act that takes seriously. The obligations of the department under the fair housing act at understands the importance. And the problems generated by housing discrimination and segregation and. Thank you so much for joining us again this is Cheryl and I pulled the president of the NAACP legal defense fund. And jury you'll be listening to the hearing today and some car to learn more and thank you so much for tea in. On And I ABC news is that pages state T and we're gonna stay here they're out the night until that. This sessions hearing wraps up and velocity back tomorrow. With more allies tribute from the capital. Thanks so much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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