NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson urged members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to vote against the nomination of William Barr to be the next attorney general of the United States.
“The NAACP opposes Mr. Barr’s nomination, and I urge every member of this committee to vote against his confirmation,” Johnson told senators early Wednesday. “Under the Trump administration, we have experienced the worst erosion of civil rights in modern history. We have seen reversals and rollbacks of positions that have enjoyed bipartisan support.”
Barr would be replacing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had a rocky relationship with President Donald Trump after recusing himself from the Robert Mueller special investigation. But Barr told the Senate on Tuesday, that “I will not be bullied by anybody,” as he proceeded to testify.
Barr, 68, served as attorney general for President George Herbert Walker Bush from 1991 to 1993. During his time at the Justice Department, he led the war against drugs when crack cocaine was rampant.
In a statement, Johnson accused Barr of being too harsh during a period where many people, specifically people of color, were locked up and given long sentences for drug charges. This disqualifies him from leading the Department of Justice at this critical time in history, Johnson noted.
“He was a general in the war on drugs, which devastated communities of color. He praised Sessions’ leadership on precisely those actions that have undermined the rights and protections of African Americans. He has sided against the rights of women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community,” Johnson told the Senate of Barr.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Barr about his record concerning the war on drugs, how he would handle criminal justice issues, immigration and other issues.
Though political observers say that Barr is likely to be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate, Johnson and National Urban League President Marc Morial said that they have a historical obligation to fight against a Justice Department that has rolled back legislative gains and civil rights milestones that have been earned in the past 50 years.
“The 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act — one of our primary missions is to ensure each of these laws is aggressively and faithfully and consistently executed and enforced by every president, every Congress and every attorney general,” Morial said, adding that though a bi-partisan criminal justice bill was recently passed “after arduous work,” it could now be in jeopardy.
While a line of witnesses testified for and against Barr, one of the most compelling moments during the hearing Wednesday came from a female minister from Charleston, S.C., whose mother and two cousins were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. Convicted murderer Dylann Roof had exploited a loophole in federal gun laws and obtained a gun, killing nine people while they were praying during Bible study at the church.
“In the spirit of our church, [Roof] was welcomed by our pastor,” Rev. Sharon Risher said. “After studying the gospel of Mark, they held hands in prayer. That was the final moment.”
Rev. Risher said she hopes that the next attorney general will close the federal loophole in gun laws.
“That young man pulled out his gun and started firing,” said Risher. “A house of worship is supposed to be the refuge from the storms of everyday life. That man robbed my family and eight other families of their loved ones.”
During the testimonies, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham went on the attack against Johnson and the NAACP, asking why the Democrats in Congress received A’s for their track record on civil rights and he, as well as most Republicans, scored failing grades. “I got a 22 percent,” Graham said.
“The NAACP is a nonpartisan organization. Our scorecard is not based on a political party,” said Johnson, who also pointed out that “under the Trump administration we have seen the rollback of policies and positions that have enjoyed bipartisan support…The next attorney general has the opportunity to put the Justice Department back on the right track.”
— Hamil R. Harris