1,400 Law Professors Stand Up for Civil Liberties

January 18, 2017
Guest Post

by Alison Siegler, Clinical Professor and Director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School and Member of ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter Board of Advisors

Last week, law school faculty around the country filed a statement with the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing their opposition to Sen. Jeff Sessions’s nomination as attorney general of the United States. The letter was signed by 1,424 law school faculty members from 180 different law schools in all 49 states that have a law school and became part of the official congressional record for the confirmation hearing. At Sessions’s hearing on Jan. 10, Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein referred to the statement as a “pretty comprehensive” list of law professors and noted the geographic breadth of the signatories, before asking Sessions for his response to the statement.

The faculty letter urges senators to reject the nomination, stating: “All of us believe it is unacceptable for someone with Sen. Sessions’s record to lead the Department of Justice.” The letter speaks of Sessions’s troubling civil rights record and also expresses deep reservations about his record in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, the environment, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. “Some of us have concerns about his support for building a wall along our country’s southern border. Some of us have concerns about his robust support for regressive drug policies that have fueled mass incarceration. Some of us have concerns about his questioning of the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. Some of us have concerns about his repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. Some of us share all of these concerns.” This letter echoes many of the same misgivings expressed in the Open Letter from Constitutional Law Scholars to President-Elect Donald Trump and the Open Letter from 1,060 Law Students to President-Elect Donald J. Trump, both released by ACS.       

The faculty letter received a remarkable media response in the national and local press, generating articles in the Washington Post, USA Today, the Miami Herald and many blogs and university newspapers, including my own. The statement’s message spread rapidly across social media and was shared more than 1 million times over a ten day period. Hundreds of professors and others chipped in to raise $17,000 to run the letter and signatures in full-page ads in newspapers the day before Sessions’s hearing began.

Faculty members who signed the letter spoke of a commitment to having leaders who promote rather than undermine the values of fairness and equality and of the importance of reminding the Senate that a Republican-led Congress had previously rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship based on similar concerns.

Faculty signatories received an outpouring of appreciation from law students. As one student wrote: “[I]t fills me with pride to see our school so well represented on this list, and I look forward to, in my individual capacity as a student . . . [and] soon as an alum, doing my small part to ensure that [our school] continues to be a source of compassion, courage, and justice in the coming years. Thank you again for publicly taking a stand.”