Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh is leading a coalition of Democratic attorneys general from six states urging the Senate to reject President-elect Donald J. Trump's nominee to head the Department of Justice.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, the attorneys general of Maryland, New York, Massachusetts and other states said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama has "stood for policies antithetical to this core mission of the Justice Department," and called him "unqualified" to be U.S. Attorney General.
Frosh said he felt compelled to speak out.
"I didn't want to look back on this moment 10 years from now and say I did not raise my voice when his name was put in for nomination," he said.
A Trump spokesman responded by pointing to a letter that 25 other state attorneys general sent last month in support of Trump.
Attorneys general from states including Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, South Carolina and Ohio credited Sessions with leading efforts to reduce disparities in drug sentencing and with understanding the needs of prosecutors at the federal, state and local levels.
The Judiciary Committee questioned Sessions during a two-day confirmation hearing last week.
The officials opposing Sessions' confirmation said the attorney general has "enormous power and influence in our justice system," and "makes critical decisions every day about how, and indeed whether, to enforce the nation's laws."
They wrote that the position must be filled "by an individual on whom our nation can rely to diligently and fairly enforce all laws protective of civil rights, public safety, health and welfare."
They cited what they described as Sessions' inability "to protect racial minorities and vulnerable populations, his rejection of sensible criminal justice reforms even when they had bipartisan support, and his poor management record, including as Alabama Attorney General."
Frosh said he was alarmed that Sessions prosecuted three voting rights activists when he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in 1985, calling it "a grotesque overreach."
The Republican Senate rejected Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship a year later.
The letter was signed by Frosh, Eric Schneiderman of New York, Maura Healy of Massachusetts, Ellen F. Rosenblum of Oregon, Karl A. Racine of the District of Columbia and Doug Chin of Hawaii.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said Wednesday he would not support Sessions' nomination.
State Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican who represents Baltimore and Harford counties, said he respects Frosh's right to express his opinion, but he doesn't agree with it, and hopes the Trump administration realizes the Maryland attorney general's office is independent of the governor's office.
Sessions helped push forward the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine that trigger some criminal penalties and eliminated a mandate that possession of crack cocaine carry at least a five-year prison sentence.
The attorneys general who support him wrote that Sessions "has the character to serve as United States Attorney General for all Americans."