As the confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court appointee Sonia Sotomayor are upon us, the left-wing attack machine had to take a few last shots ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Republican Sen. Jeff Session, Ala., and the Republican Party as a whole.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explained the junior Alabama senator would take over the spot after Sen. Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party on her July 10 program, suggesting his selection to the post was part of some rebranding by the GOP.
"Republicans have also decided to have Senator Jeff Sessions lead this battle for them," Maddow said. "When Arlen Specter defected to the Democratic Party, the Republicans had a choice of who should be their top senator on the Judiciary Committee. They overtly chose Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be that top Republican."
Rachel Anne Maddow recycled material from her May 4 and 5 programs, dredging up Sessions' 1986 Reagan appointment to the federal bench.
"Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who had his own chance at a federal judgeship blocked in 1986 by the Senate Judiciary Committee by both Democrats and Republicans after testimony that Sessions called an African-American assistant U.S. attorney ‘boy' and that he called the NAACP, quote, ‘un-American and communist-inspired.'"
The charge levied against Sessions during his 1986 hearing, that he called a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures "boy," has some questionable circumstances surrounding it that have been ignored by Maddow and others that have used it to attempt to discredit Sessions previously.
As a March 21, 1986 United Press International story by Robert Doherty reported, Figures and a witness changed their tune about those accusations during Sessions 1986 hearing (emphasis added):
"Asked by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whether Sessions had made any other similar remarks, Figures replied, ‘I was regularly called 'boy.'
Asked by Kennedy who had made the remark, Figures said, ‘Mr. Sessions did, one or two of the other assistants.'
Later, under questioning by [former Alabama Sen. Jeremiah] Denton, Figures detailed only one alleged instance when Sessions had called him ‘boy.' Figures refused to detail his charges to reporters after he testified.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Vulevich, whom Figures also said had called him ‘boy,' categorically denied the charge, and praised Sessions as ‘a man of utmost integrity.'
Justice Department officials produced a document signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ginny Granade, whom Figures said may have overheard Sessions call him ‘boy.'
‘I have never heard Mr. Sessions refer to Mr. Figures as ‘boy' or to call him by anything other than his given name,' said her statement, issued in Mobile about an hour after Figures made the charge."
Despite these questions, Maddow presented those 1986 accusations as if they're fact in order to smear Sessions and the Republican Party.
"Is the Republican Party using the Sotomayor nomination to position itself aggressively on race?" Maddow said. "This is not a theoretical re-branding about the party and its future, about its potential future leaders. This is now. Is the party showing inaction, that it is actually refocusing the party along old school, Mason-Dixon lines?"
Maddow, an openly liberal commentator with a disapproving view of almost all things conservative, assumed her negative view of the Republican Party was the correct one and asked her guest, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a Princeton University politics professor, why the GOP would be maneuvering in this direction.
"But why would they make that decision? I mean, I think it doesn't make sense for Democrats to think that Republicans are just willingly and knowingly stepping off a demographic and political cliff," Maddow said. "I think they have to sense that there's some political wind at their back. There are some political gains to be made even if they are going to give up Latino voters in the process."
Harris-Lacewell told Maddow and her viewers the party was trying to reposition itself strategically to "40 years ago."
"Well, you know, certainly, this was true 40 years ago when the party strategically made a choice to go, you know, massive resistance on questions of racial equality in the South," Harris-Lacewell said. "And it appears that they're doing a sort of massive resistant strategy here against Sotomayor as well."
However, it's not clear if Harris-Lacewell has a revisionist view of history when she said "the party" was reverting to "a massive resistance on question of racial equality in the South." In fact, it was Senate Democrats, not Republicans, which blocked many of the Civil Rights Era efforts in the 1960s. Paul Weyrich pointed this out for NewsMax in 2004, how not just southern Democrats, but others fought civil rights legislation introduced by President John F. Kennedy during his presidency.
"It is easy to forget, with the disciplined leftwing Democrat caucus in the current Senate in the 108th Congress, that not only were there Southern Democrats back then who opposed the kind of legislation that Kennedy proposed but such Northerners as Frank Lausche (D-OH.), Alan Bible (D-NV), and Mike Monroney (D-OK), were not enthusiastic about it either," Weyrich wrote. "Then President Kennedy was killed. Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, used the Kennedy death to push for the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in his name."
Harris-Lacewell insisted it was "a foregone conclusion" Sotomayor would be confirmed, and insinuated that if the GOP didn't rollover and play dead at next week's confirmation hearings, they would be construed, at least by her, as a party that is opposing her on her ethnic identity and not her judicial philosophy.
"I mean, this is pretty much a foregone conclusion," Harris-Lacewell said. "She is going to be the first Latina justice on the United States Supreme Court. And they're going to go down as a party that opposed her on the basis of her ethnic identity."
Harris-Lacewell made the extraordinary charge that Republican opposition to Sotomayor was an effort to capitalize on the color of President Barack Obama and mobilize the "white-anxiety" base.
"All I can think is that they're thinking there is a way to kind of capitalize on anxiety about an African-American president, anxiety about a growing majority rather than minority of people of color, and try to mobilize a kind of white-anxiety base," Harris-Lacewell said. "But I actually think they're off base here and that they're, in fact, likely to alienate Latino voters who are really - where the new voting bloc exists."
Harris-Lacewell is a frequent guest on MSNBC and contributes to other radical left-wing publications like The Nation.