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Witnesses Testify About Sen. Jeff Sessions In Confirmation Hearing


On Capitol Hill today, lawmakers debated the record of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Law enforcement and civil liberties groups disagreed over whether Sessions is qualified to lead the Justice Department. In a moment, we'll hear from Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who testified against Sessions' nomination. First, NPR's Carrie Johnson has this report on today's hearing.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: More than 50 years ago, civil rights hero John Lewis risked his life marching for the right to vote on a bridge in Selma, Ala.


JOHN LEWIS: We've come a distance. We've made progress, but we're not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don't want to go back. We want to go forward.

JOHNSON: Lewis told the Senate Judiciary Committee he worries when he hears Jeff Sessions talk about a return to law and order. His fear - if Sessions becomes the attorney general, will he bring back the kind of law and order Lewis protested in the 1960s? David Cole, legal director for the ACLU, advised lawmakers to consider Sessions' record.


DAVID COLE: When the Supreme Court gutted the single most effective provision of the Voting Rights Act - the most important statute in getting African-Americans the right to vote in this country - Senator Sessions called that a good day for the South.

JOHNSON: But William Smith, who worked for Sessions on Capitol Hill, attested to his old boss's character.


WILLIAM SMITH: After 20 years of knowing Senator Sessions, I have not seen the slightest evidence of racism because it does not exist. I know a racist when I see one, and I've seen more than one, but Jeff Sessions is not one.

JOHNSON: Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified he has, quote, "no hesitation that Sessions is ready to run the Justice Department." And former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said Sessions is committed to enforcing the law and protecting public safety.


LARRY THOMPSON: Of all our important civil rights, the rights to be safe and secure in one's home and neighborhood is perhaps the most important.

JOHNSON: But Democrats raised questions about the nominee's past statements, selecting witnesses to make a political point. One survivor of sexual assault testified she worries that victims may not want to come forward after, she says, Sessions minimized Donald Trump's remarks in 2005 on a hot mic about grabbing women. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.