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Sessions faces the big question at his confirmation hearing: Is he a racist?

Hannah Allam, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

"Clearly, it would be," Sessions said.

Sessions also assured the committee that he was capable of enforcing laws even if he'd voted against them or if they violated his personal beliefs. Variations of this line came up in questioning over states' rights in marijuana legalization, using hate crime laws in cases involving LGBT victims and many other hot-button issues.

The overarching question, however, was about race, specifically whether a controversial figure like Sessions could be an effective attorney general at a time marked by rising racial tensions and deep fears among minority communities.

Sessions said his provenance (Alabama) and "Southern name" (he's named after two Confederate icons) contributed to the persistent labeling of him as a racist.

Sessions specifically addressed allegations that had surfaced in hearings before the same committee 30 years ago, when he failed to win confirmation for a federal judgeship. At the time, claims were aired that he'd addressed a black colleague as "boy," that he'd painted a white civil rights attorney as a race traitor and that he'd criticized civil rights groups as trying to "force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them."

Sessions called the claims "damnably false."

"This caricature of me from 1986 is not correct," he said.

Such are the charges against him that Sessions felt compelled to go so far as to publicly disavow the KKK. An oft-repeated story, another product of the 1980s confirmation attempt, says Sessions once joked that he'd been OK with the Klan until he learned that members smoked marijuana. Sessions forcefully rejected the idea that he harbors any sympathies whatsoever for the KKK.

"I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology," Sessions told the committee.

Throughout the hearing, Sessions and his supporters touted his oversight of a high-profile prosecution of two Alabama Klan members who lynched a 19-year-old African-American man in 1981.

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