But in preparation for the hearing, the longtime Alabama senator submitted a questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee that’s missing a key detail: any mention of the time that same committee defeated his nomination to be a federal judge in 1986. President Ronald Reagan ultimately withdrew the nomination.
In response to a question that, among other things, calls for listing “unsuccessful nominations for appointed office,” Sessions simply didn’t respond. He listed instead his successful years of service as federal prosecutor in Alabama, as the state’s attorney general and as U.S. senator.
The omission is curious, given his own history as a senior member on the Senate Judiciary Committee and his familiarity with its processes. It could be explained, in part, by the lengthy, multipart question — its first section calls for listing any public offices “other than judicial offices.”
But as any good textualist will tell you — the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was one, and Sessions is a big fan — the “also” in the latter part of the question couldn’t make it any clearer that the senator’s failed 1986 nomination to be a federal judge in Alabama should’ve been included in the questionnaire.
Spokespeople for Sessions and for the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to questions regarding the omission and whether the senator plans to resubmit the missing nomination.
“I do think that it is striking that it’s not in the questionnaire as publicly available,” said Christopher Kang, a former deputy counsel to President Barack Obama on judicial nominations.
Kang, who now leads the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, is joining an effort by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, People for the American Way and other advocacy groups in calling for a delay in Sessions’ confirmation hearing due to his “woefully inadequate” questionnaire ― which the groups say is missing dozens of relevant interviews, speeches and articles by Sessions from his decades in public service.
The coalition called the missing bid for a judgeship the “most benign” in an otherwise lengthy list of omissions.
It’s not common for the Senate Judiciary Committee to make a fuss about incomplete questionnaires, but there’s precedent. In 2005, Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote a letter to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers ― whose nomination never went anywhere ― demanding better, more thorough answers to specific questions.
Sessions, who has served in the Senate for 20 years, is on his way to a smoother path. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already set up a webpage for the upcoming Sessions nomination, and its chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), has scheduled a two-day hearing to take place on Jan. 10 and 11.
In a statement Wednesday, Grassley said the hearing remains “on track,” and noted that former Attorney General Eric Holder supplemented his own questionnaire with “hundreds of additional items.” Holder himself was confirmed prior to Obama’s inauguration.
Even if Sessions never fully clears the air on his rejected nomination or other omissions, his questionnaire likely won’t be the last word. When he faces his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, one might expect one of them will set the record straight for him.
UPDATE: 10:30 p.m. ― Later on Wednesday, Sessions supplemented his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire with his “withdrawn” nomination for a federal judgeship in Alabama.