On Wednesday evening, the United States Senate voted to confirm one of its own—Alabama Republican Jefferson Beauregard Sessions—as America's next attorney general.
The vote was 52-47. One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined 51 Republicans in voting for Sessions. (Sessions himself did not vote.) After the vote was announced, Republicans applauded.
As attorney general, Sessions will now sit atop a vast and powerful legal infrastructure whose reach extends into nearly every facet of everyday life, from civil and voting rights to marriage equality to immigration to policies on prisons, crime, and policing. Given this responsibility, Sessions—a man who has been dogged by allegations of racism, adheres to a deeply conservative ideology, and has a very checkered history with civil rights legislation—was long seen as one of, if not the most, controversial of President Trump's Cabinet picks.
This was actually Sessions' second attempt at getting confirmed by the Senate for a post. In 1986, he was nominated by Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship, but the nomination was scuppered over reports of his racist behavior. (Sessions has denied these charges.) On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced by her GOP colleagues for reading a letter from civil rights icon Coretta Scott King written in opposition to that nomination.
"Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts," King wrote. "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship."
Opposition to Sessions was just as heated—though, clearly, less successful—this time. The head of the NAACP was arrested for sitting in at Sessions' office. At his confirmation hearing, civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis warned against voting for him.
"It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you," Lewis said. "We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help."