“If there was a level above DEFCON One, it would be that,” said Sam Bagenstos, who was the civil rights division’s No. 2 official from 2009 to 2011. “Jeff Sessions has a unique and uniquely troubled history with the civil rights division. … From the perspective of the work of the enforcement of civil rights, I think the Sessions pick is a particularly troublesome one — more than anyone else you can think of.”
The concern at the Justice Department’s anti-discrimination unit stems largely from the same accounts of alleged racist remarks and racially tinged incidents that emerged when Sessions was nominated to a district court judgeship in 1986. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard a black lawyer testify that Sessions referred to him as “boy,” and another attorney testify that Sessions said about the Ku Klux Klan that he thought the group was “OK, until I heard that they smoked pot.”
Sessions said that was a joke and he denied allegations that he’d used an ugly racial epithet. But his nomination was voted down 10-8, only the second time that had happened in half a century.