During a debate over whether to approve Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took the floor and began to read a letter written by Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, in 1986. However, she was not allowed to finish the letter, as Republicans invoked a little-used Senate rule to cut her off.
At the time the letter was written, Sessions was up for consideration for a federal judgeship. King’s letter decried Sessions’s history as an opponent of civil rights and voting rights, saying that Sessions, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” Sessions was ultimately rejected for the judgeship.
However, Republicans in the Senate objected to Warren’s reading, citing Senate Rule 19, which forbids Senators from “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” By a vote of 49-43, following partisan lines, the Senate voted to admonish Warren, barring her from speaking during the remaining debate over Sessions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said through a spokesman, “She has been warned multiple times (not just today)… After additional warning today, she was found in violation of the rule. She appealed the ruling and lost.”
The text of King’s letter, as well as video of Warren reading the letter, has spread rapidly through social media as many criticized the Republican leadership’s tactics as heavy-handed and repressive. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) inserted the entire letter into the Congressional Record, and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) read portions of the letter on the Senate floor, avoiding the sections that had gotten Warren into trouble.
The vote on Sessions’s selection as attorney general will be held Wednesday, and he is expected to be confirmed.