The United States Senate on Wednesday evening confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as the country’s 84th attorney general, thwarting opposition from Democratic lawmakers.
The 52-47 vote, mostly along party lines, brings an end to a fierce battle over one of President Donald Trump‘s most controversial cabinet nominees. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat to vote in favor of Sessions’ confirmation.
As attorney general, Sessions will serve as the top U.S. law enforcement officer, the country’s top attorney, and oversee 113,000 employees as the head of the Department of Justice.
A staunch conservative and former prosecutor, Sessions has served as a senator from Alabama since 1996. Sessions also served as a key Trump advocate during his campaign, particularly on national security matters. His strict “law and order” stance on immigration and drugs aligns with the president’s stance on tough policing.
Sessions has long faced criticism from civil right advocates over a controversial history with race. Nominated to serve as a federal judge by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Sessions failed to receive confirmation amid accusations of racism. These accusations have followed him to Wednesday night’s vote, as his Republican colleagues attempted to cast him as fair steward of the law who will treat all Americans equally.
Civil rights advocates have also raised concerns that Sessions will roll back Obama administration policies meant to bring greater accountability to American police departments and bridge divides between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
BREAKING: Jeff Sessions confirmed as attorney general.
If he violates the Constitution, we'll sue. pic.twitter.com/le02tuG2Pg
— ACLU (@ACLU) February 9, 2017
While often noting that they like Sessions and accept his list of credentials, Senate Democrats put forth a vigorous opposition following the Trump administration’s firing of Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, after she wrote a letter saying she would not defend Trump’s controversial executive order banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations.
In a particularly controversial move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday night prevented Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from reading a letter written by Corretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., written in opposition to Sessions’ nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
“She was warned,” said McConnell, who invoked an obscure Senate rule to silence Warren, whom he said had disparaged Sessions’ character. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
McConnell’s actions sparked widespread condemnation from critics online, and his words—“Nevertheless, she persisted”—were quickly co-opted as a new rallying cry for women’s rights advocates.