April 21st, 2010
09:01 PM ET
5 years ago

Sessions walks fine line about diversity on the Supreme Court

Sen. Sessions shared his views on what makes for a good Supreme Court justice Wednesday on CNN.
Sen. Sessions shared his views on what makes for a good Supreme Court justice Wednesday on CNN.

Washington (CNN) – The Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that racial or ethnic background can be a “positive factor” for the next Supreme Court nominee but it should not be a “primary” consideration.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, met earlier in the day with President Obama and other Senate leaders at the White House to discuss replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Sessions told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King that, during the meeting, Obama offered next to no hints about which individuals he was considering for his second high court pick since taking office.

But Sessions said the Senate has an important responsibility to act on the public’s behalf once Obama makes his decision.

“The president gets to appoint [the nominee]. We have to objectively evaluate [the choice],” Sessions said on CNN’s John King, USA. “It’s the only opportunity the American people have to have any real play in the process – when the elected representatives review the president’s choice. It’s a serious responsibility.”

Reacting to the fact that the Supreme Court has no one of Asian descent, the Republican senator said, “I don’t think the ethnicity or background of an individual should be the primary thing when they’re selected to the court.”

Sessions said a suitable candidate should have “good judgment” and “real experience in the legal world.”

“They don’t have to be a judge but I don’t think we want a politician,” the Alabama senator also said.

Asked whether he would consider diversity – a candidate’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – in determining whether someone is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, Sessions said diversity “can be a factor, a positive factor.”

The senator told King that he did not object to a president trying to have diversity on the high court. But, he added, he did not think increasing the Supreme Court’s ethnic diversity meant a nominee was not accountable for his or her judicial philosophy, skill or background.

“And I don’t think that’s what any of the nominees would want. I think they would feel that they should be judged by the same rigorous standard anybody else would be judged by.”

Sessions, a lawyer, also weighed in on a controversial bill making its way through the Arizona legislature.

If enacted, the bill would require presidential candidates to provide documents, including birth certificates, proving their citizenship before their names can be added to the ballot in Arizona. The measure appears to be directed at the persistent, core belief of the “birther” movement which questions whether President Obama was born in the United States despite proof that he was born in Hawaii in 1961 (CNN and other news organizations have thoroughly debunked the rumors about the president's birthplace).

“What’s wrong with that?” Sessions responded when asked about the Arizona measure.

He added, “You’re supposed to be a citizen so I don’t know that it would be a problem to produce a birth certificate. If you didn’t have one, I guess you could explain why you didn’t. But I don’t see a problem with that.”

Asked whether measures like the one in Arizona presented a problem because the result might be different state-by-state requirements, Sessions said the issue was “an interesting legal question.”

“I don’t know if the states have the authority to do that or not,” the Republican said.

The White House slammed the Arizona bill earlier Wednesday, saying, “This is a question that has been answered exhaustively.”

If it became law, the Arizona bill would also likely be challenged in court on the grounds that it is the federal government and not the states that have the authority to set the requirements for being president.

–CNN's Ed Henry and Shannon Travis contributed to this report.


Filed under: Jeff Sessions • JKUSA • John King USA • Popular Posts • Supreme Court
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. MatthewDetroit

    Why not this idea....Pick the best person.... NOT about race and this other bull crap.

    April 21, 2010 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  2. Todd

    sessions must have studied a "try not to sound as crazy as usual" script. He said almost verbatim the same tings on NPR.

    April 21, 2010 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  3. sonsarchangel

    If Obama wasn't black these fools wouldn't even Remotely think of this rule. Its SAD what has happened since the Presidents Election. The Extremist Right has trumpeted a messege of Hate – Division- Fear since his election. Their leaders such as Palin Cheney Bachmann Gingrich Limbaugh....these people have been spewing so much Hatred - that many unfortunately have just decided to "Blindly Follow" versus research and understand things for themselves. The Progressive Left needs to trumpet just as Loud if not Louder to make sure the Hate from the Right doesn't go unchecked

    April 21, 2010 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  4. Terry From West Texas

    Translation from Conservospeak to English: "We're going to pretend to be reasonable, but we are 100% committed to opposing Obama's nominee even if we think he or she would be a good judge. We will find something in his or her record to object to. Sarah Palin can be counted on to chime in with one of her trademark idiotic lies. We will fight and we don't think the Democrats have the nerve to stand up to us. They are as cowardly as we are untrustworthy. Have a nice day."

    April 21, 2010 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  5. John Hennessy Black

    How about an Atheist on the Supremes?

    We already have 9 goofy people in long, black robes telling us a corporation is an individual...

    Isn't it really time to get some – if not all – of this religious BS totally out of our government?

    April 21, 2010 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  6. Michael

    John King is a repuglican! CNN, are you now a clone of Foxnews, your simularties are sickening! John King allows repuglicans to smear lies, distortions, deceptions, and more lies without being checked on them! Sessions is a bigot, and maybe John King is too! What is he afraid off "repuglican" smear fearmongering machine? John King only interview democrats with any intensity, which is hypocrisy at its zenith!

    April 21, 2010 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  7. Lee CA

    did they require their state candidates to produce these documents, or how about state employees or any employee in their state? Glad I don't live in that messed up state. And they better not stop and detain me passing through asking me to prove I am a citizen, it would be a fight in civil court. Oh and by the way, are they going to take financial responsibility for all the identity theft which will be created when personal documents have been compromised? Just Stupid!

    April 21, 2010 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  8. Michael from Ventura

    What Sessions wants means absolutely NOTHING.

    April 21, 2010 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  9. KateHikes

    What I want to know is why yids make up 22% (and soon possibly 33%) of the court when they're only 2% of the population. America, do you see who controls you??

    April 21, 2010 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  10. EqualPolitics4Everyone

    I agree 100% with the Senator. Liberals are focused too much on race and religion titles. The people who have the best credentials should be the ones hired. That is it, bottom line. Race or religion should never be a deciding factor on who to hire for any job.

    April 21, 2010 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  11. Larry

    Sessions, I hate to rain on your parade but President Obama doesn't need your approval on anything. But I praise him for reaching out to you moronic Republicans.

    Remember Justice Sotomayor? She got approved despite all your rhetoric.

    You Republicans need to start selling your wares to peope in the market for fertilizer. People in this country with a brain are tired of you.

    April 21, 2010 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  12. Julian E,

    I hope President Obama is leaning on appointing a qualified Asian or Native American who possess an excellent liberal credentials to the Supreme Court. This will show that he has exemplified his position on issues bordering on diversity and equality, and the apex court of the judicial system will have a true semblance of what our nation represents today – a true United States of America.

    April 21, 2010 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  13. Ethan

    Sessions is, AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN, a racist. He doesn't like minorities. Look up his record. He is a shameless, disgusting, racist pig.

    April 22, 2010 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  14. Whimsy1

    I am embarrassed to be an Arizona resident. Our state legislature should be working on finding ways to create employment, balance our woefull budget. Instead, they are wasting time and energy on legislation that is mean spirited, meaningless and probably not legal. It's time for those in elected positions to actually represent their constituents rather than make right wing posturings.
    Since our legislature is also trying to turn Arizona into a police state and a state where any yoyo can carry concealed weapons many long time republicans are seriously thinking of leaving the state. Regardless of party affiliation, we want jobs, good schools and safety for our families. It's time for our state legislators to get serious and make their priorities those of all Arizonans.

    April 22, 2010 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  15. clementine

    have we forgotten what it was like to.be born black in america during the 60's and early we we're not allowed to be born in a hosp. with dr. and nurse. our births were joted down on a scrap piece of papaer with little interest to the gov. there are many blacks whose bc want pass birthers standards..

    April 22, 2010 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  16. BrianInMesa

    I started to read what sessions had to say – then I came to john king's name and that's where I stopped. One rightwingwacko soft interviewing another rightwingwacko. No, thanks!

    April 22, 2010 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  17. jules sand-perkins

    I hear Senator Sessions saying, between his lines, that he knows he can't keep an African-American woman or gay man off the court just because of who they are, but not to worry, because he can reject them for some other reason, cynically called "background."
    I so much appreciate the senator's red-tie-dark-suit conservative costume. It's a telling statement.

    April 22, 2010 05:06 am at 5:06 am |
  18. key

    The reality that states may pick and choose who is on a presidential ballot is really telling to me. Presidents are vetted very well by other means thanks but no thanks Arizona.

    April 22, 2010 07:06 am at 7:06 am |