The Senate Judiciary Questionnaire and Confirmation Hearings: Nominee Sessions Differs from Senator Sessions

By Kyle Barry
Policy Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense Fund

A memo released today by a number of organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), revealed gaping holes in Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’s response to his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire (SJQ) that preclude the Judiciary Committee from holding a thorough and complete hearing on his nomination. This finding also revealed that, as a nominee, Sessions apparently takes the SJQ far less seriously than he does as a Senator tasked with assessing nominees, and that he is unwilling to hold himself to the same standard to which he holds other nominees who appear before the Committee.

In 2010, when a judicial nominee failed to submit certain materials required by the SJQ, Sen. Sessions described a sacred role for the questionnaire in the confirmation process. In a letter, Sessions said that the failure to report a full list of speeches, panel discussions, and publications showed “extraordinary disregard for the Committee’s constitutional role,” and an “unwillingness to take seriously [the] obligation to complete these basic forms” that “is potentially disqualifying.” Sessions argued that the Committee should postpone the nominee’s hearing to “maintain[] the integrity of the Committee’s constitutional advice and consent responsibilities[.]”

In Sen. Sessions’s view, the obligation to provide full and accurate SJQ responses should be well-known to nominees appearing before the Committee. “[P]racticing lawyers and judges who are asked to fill out the questionnaire know how important full disclosure is,” he said. “They take an oath to accurately and completely respond to the questionnaire we submit to them.”

Yet as a nominee himself Sessions has failed to heed his own advice and live up to the solemn obligation he has so forcefully described. The memo released today details hundreds of items that Sessions was required but failed to disclose — including speeches, panel discussions, op-eds, and transcripts of remarks which he said do not exist but are easily found online. In other words, Sessions omitted the very sort of material that he once deemed essential before a confirmation hearing could take place. The memo follows a letter from the Judiciary Committee’s next Ranking Member, Senator Diane Feinstein, noting other glaring deficiencies in Sessions’s SJQ despite an enormous 150,000 pages of material that he submitted (and that the public and Committee staff must have a fair opportunity to review) late in the evening last Friday.

So far, the Committee’s Chairman Chuck Grassley has insisted that Sessions’s hearings will begin on the originally announced date of January 10. Sen. Grassley should not allow Sessions’s double standard to control these profoundly important proceedings. Sessions’s at once voluminous yet woefully incomplete submission makes it impossible to hold a thorough confirmation hearing just a few weeks from now. The Senate should not take shortcuts when evaluating the nominee for the top law enforcement position in the country, and should instead collect and review all required material before setting a timeline for hearings.

In Senator Sessions’s view, “maintaining the integrity of the Committee’s constitutional advise and consent responsibilities more than justifies such a request.”