Feinstein Opening Remarks at Attorney General Confirmation Hearing

Washington January 10, 2017 – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered opening remarks at the attorney general confirmation hearing. Her remarks, as delivered, follow:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and I’d like to thank Senator Leahy also for his words. If I may, I would like to begin by quickly introducing some Californians in the audience: Congresswoman Maxine Waters from Los Angeles, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from the Bay Area.

Also, Denisse Rojas, who is a Dreamer who has been enormously successful. I had the privilege of writing an article about her.

And also, the Reverend Dr. Amos Brown, whom I’ve known for 40 years. And the Reverend Dr. Frederick Haynes. They are part of the ministerial delegation here today.

The senator before us this morning is someone who many of us on this committee have worked with for 20 years. That makes this very difficult for me.

I committed to Senator Sessions in our private meeting, and I’ll say it again here, the process is going to be fair and thorough.

But today, we are not being asked to evaluate him as a senator.

We are being asked to evaluate him for the attorney general of the United States—the chief law enforcement for the largest and best democracy in the world.

As attorney general, his job will not be to advocate for his beliefs.

Rather, the job of the attorney general is to enforce federal law, even if he voted against a law, even if spoke against it before it passed, even if he disagrees with the precedent saying that the law is constitutional.

Most importantly, his job will be to enforce federal law equally, equally for all Americans.

And this job requires service to the people and the law—not to the president.

The president-elect said to his opponent during a debate and I quote, “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look at your situation,” end quote.

Mr. Chairman, that’s not what an attorney general does. An attorney general does not investigate or prosecute at the direction of the president.

Nor do attorneys general wear two hats—one as the president’s lawyer and one as the people’s lawyer.

That model has failed.

Rather, the attorney general must put aside loyalty to the president. He must ensure that the law and the Constitution come first and foremost. Period.

President Lincoln’s Attorney General, Edward Bates, I think said it best when he said this and I quote, “[t]he office I hold is not properly political, but strictly legal, and it is my duty above all other ministers of state to uphold the law and to resist all encroachments from whatever quarter.”

That is the job of the attorney general.

If confirmed, Senator Sessions will be the top official charged with faithfully and impartially enforcing all federal law and protecting our fundamental right to vote from all incursions, whether they be foreign or domestic.

His duty will be to enforce and protect our civil rights and constitutional freedoms, including a woman’s right to choose.

He will run the department that ensures those who commit hate crimes are held accountable.

And he will be charged with protecting consumers and taxpayers from fraud, and making sure that corrupt public officials are held accountable.

He will prosecute polluters based on federal law.

And it is the attorney general who must ensure that this government follows the law and does not torture ever again.

This is an awesome responsibility and an enormous job.

What we must do now, in these hearings, is determine what type of attorney general Senator Sessions will be, if confirmed.

And let me express a deep concern. There is so much fear in this country. I see it. I hear it. Particularly in the African American community, from preachers, from politicians, from every day Americans.

As Mrs. Evelyn Turner of the Marion Three said in her passionate letter to this committee and I quote, “I am very troubled by his stance against civil rights in the more recent past. As a U.S. Senator, he supported no laws or causes which suggest that he has changed,” end quote.

Throughout his Senate career, Senator Sessions has advocated an extremely conservative agenda.

For example: He voted no, and spoke for nearly 30 minutes in this committee against a Leahy amendment two years ago that expressed the sense of the Senate that “the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion.”

He voted against each of three bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bills—in 2006, 2007 and 2013. Twice he voted against the DREAM Act—the bill for undocumented youth, known as Dreamers, who were brought here as children, through no choice of their own—calling it and I quote, “reckless proposal for mass amnesty,” end quote.

He voted against efforts to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” calling them “lawful” and praising Attorney General Mukasey in 2008 for refusing to rule out the use of waterboarding in the future.

These interrogation techniques are, and were at the time, illegal. And, thanks to a provision Senator McCain placed in the defense authorization bill this past year they are not prohibited from use.

In addition, Senator Sessions voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, which, among other things, expanded hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

Arguing against the hate crimes law in 2009, he said this “today I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it,” end quote.

Well, this senator, regretfully, sees it—hate crimes are happening. The Department of Justice must see it, must investigate it, and prosecute it appropriately. Those are votes that are deeply concerning. They are recent. They are important. And they clearly show this senator’s point of view.

Now for all these reasons, this hearing must determine clearly whether this senator will enforce laws he voted against.

We, the American people, want to know how he intends to use this awesome power of the office of the attorney general if he is confirmed. Will he use it fairly? Will he use it in a way that respects law and the Constitution? Will he use it in a way that eases tensions among our communities and our law enforcement officers? Will he be independent of the White House? Will he tell the president “no” when necessary, and faithfully enforce ethics laws and constitutional restrictions?

So, we will ask questions and we will press for answers. Ultimately, we must determine whether Senator Sessions can be an attorney general for all of our people.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to conclude with one final point. We cannot ignore that there are deep concerns and anxiety throughout America. There is a deep fear about what a Trump administration will bring in many places.

And this is the context in which we must consider Senator Sessions’ record and nomination to become the chief law enforcement of America.

Communities across the country are concerned about whether they will be able to rely on the Department of Justice to protect their rights and freedoms. These freedoms are so cherished. They are what make us unique among nations.

There have been sit-ins, protests and writings.
And the committee has received letters of opposition from: 400 different civil rights organizations, 1,400 law professors, 1,000 law students, a broad task force of organizations that oppose domestic violence, 70 reproductive health organizations and many, many others.
All these letters express deep anxiety about the direction of the country and how this nominee will enforce the law fairly, evenly, and without personal bias.
So I hope today’s questions are probing and the answers are fulsome. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the only way we have to know whether this man can detach himself from the president and his record and vote in full according to the laws of the United States of America.”