‘HE TRIED TO PERSECUTE US’…. By any reasonable measure, congressional Republicans don’t need another headache. As a “rebranding” initiative gets underway, the last thing the GOP wants is a flap showing the party to be out of step with the American mainstream.

Elevating Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama to be ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then, is an unusually bad idea.

We talked yesterday about Sessions’ nauseating background with regard to race relations. He considers the NAACP “un-American” because it “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” He referred to a white attorney as a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans. He called an African-American “boy” and warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” Sessions has spent much of the past decade opposing provisions of the Civil Voting Rights Act, which he considers “intrusive.”

But perhaps the single most offensive part of Sessions’ background was the trumped up voter-fraud charges he used to prosecute three civil rights workers — Albert Turner, Turner’s wife Evelyn, and Spencer Hogue, Jr. — after the 1984 elections.

Brian Beutler took a closer look at the case and talked to Hogue about Sessions.

Sessions was unconcerned with claims of fraud outside the so-called Black Belt, but he alleged that the trio had falsified absentee ballots in Perry County during the 1984 election. After conducting an exhaustive investigation, though, he was able to account for only a small handful of questionable examples, and even those he couldn’t pin on his defendants, who were acquitted after only a few hours’ deliberation.

Albert Turner — who was an adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr. — passed away in 2000, and his wife could not be immediately located, but Hogue still lives in Marion, and by phone today he expressed his displeasure with the news that Sessions is, in effect, getting a promotion.

“I don’t know why he’d be promoted,” Hogue said. “It will give him more power to do things he shouldn’t.”

“We were trying to get the right to vote,” Hogue said. “He tried to persecute us.”

Now, Sessions will be the leading Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee — which deals with, among other things, civil rights laws.

If this starts to draw attention from political reporters — the Washington Post reported on Sessions’ promotion, and briefly alluded to his scandalous background — it may prove to be a Trent Lott-like problem for the party.

For more on this, I talked with Rachel Maddow about Sessions’ new role on MSNBC last night.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.