CORETTA SCOTT KING'S LETTER

What I'm Reading
 Coretta Scott King speaks to students from the U.S. embassy school in New Delhi, India, January 1969. Civil Rights activist Andrew Young is at far right. Photo by Tim Brown.

Coretta Scott King speaks to students from the U.S. embassy school in New Delhi, India, January 1969. Civil Rights activist Andrew Young is at far right. Photo by Tim Brown.

 

In 1986, 39-year-old Jeff Sessions, U.S. attorney for Alabama, was nominated for a federal judgeship in the southern district of that state. A known racist, his nomination was met with much resistance, including former colleagues who testified against him.

One letter, in particular, stood out. It was nine pages long and written by the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, to Senator Strom Thurmond, Republican from South Carolina and the then chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In the letter, Mrs. King urged the senate to block the nomination of Jeff Sessions.

“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.” Mrs. King wrote. “Mr. Sessions conduct as U.S. attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights law, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgement to be a federal judge.”

The Washington Post reported that the Republican-controlled committee voted to block Mr. Sessions's nomination by 10-8, with the help of two Republicans who joined the Democrats to prevent it from moving forward to a full Senate vote.

It was this letter that Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, was reading when she was interrupted by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who said she violated Rule XIX, which states that “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator,” thus resulting in the chamber voting to silence her in a party-line vote, 49-43. She is banned from speaking on the Senate floor until Mr. Sessions nomination is complete.

Last night, #LetLizSpeak began to trend on Twitter when Ms. Warren tweeted about being silenced for reading the letter, and within hours, read it on Facebook. So far, the video has attracted about 7.8 million views, significantly more than she would’ve gotten if she’d been allowed to read the letter on the floor.

A vote on Jeff Sessions’s nomination as Attorney General is expected today.