False Equivalency Watch

FALSE EQUIVALENCY WATCH…. Many of Sonia Sotomayor’s less responsible detractors have been throwing around careless (and baseless) accusations of “racism.” Today, CNN ran an unbelievably forgiving piece on Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who CNN suggests was unfairly painted with the same brush.

The headline reads, “Key senator knows what it’s like to be called ‘racist.'” (via TPM)

When greeting Judge Sonia Sotomayor this week, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama made sure to tell her something loud enough for the assembled reporters to hear.

“You will get a fair hearing before this committee,” Sessions told President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee with emphatic gestures and tone.

That greeting wasn’t just pleasantries. It was a promise born out of his own experience.

From there, CNN reports on Sessions’ 1986 judicial nominee, which was defeated, with bipartisan opposition, due in large part to the Alabama Republican’s record on race. The piece characterizes Sessions as a victim of painful attacks — which makes it easier for him to relate to Sotomayor.

Characterizing these as relative equivalents is silly. The attacks on Sotomayor are baseless and easily debunked. The charges against Sessions 23 years ago were based on extensive facts, an outrageous pattern, and were bolstered by a lengthy record.

As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama, Sessions’ most notable effort was prosecuting three civil rights workers, including a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., on trumped up charges of voter fraud.

Also during his illustrious career in Alabama, Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” because it, among other groups, “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” A former career Justice Department official who worked with Sessions recalled an instance when he referred to a white attorney as a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans. Sessions later acknowledged having made many of the controversial remarks attributed to him, but claimed to have been joking.

What’s more, Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama and an African American, later explained that during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he “used to think they [the Klan] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” Sessions once again acknowledged making the remark, but once again claimed to have been kidding. Figures also remembered having heard Sessions call him “boy,” and once warn him to “be careful what you say to white folks.”

How is this in any way similar to the attacks on Sotomayor? It’s not. The CNN report, which includes extensive quotes from poor Sessions, and precious little about why he was accused of racism in the first place, is woefully incomplete.