Northampton’s Paki Wieland arrested after Senate panel vote on Jeff Sessions for AG (w/video)

  • Northampton activist Patricia “Paki” Wieland points and shouts at members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, in Washington, after the committee voted along party lines to advance Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be the next U.S. attorney general to the full Senate. Weiland was arrested by Capitol Police and released. She said she will stay in the nation’s capital until her Feb. 15 court date. Photo courtesy of Crystal Zevon

  • Northampton activists Patricia “Paki” Wieland is escorted out of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by Capitol Police Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Crystal Zevon

@JackSuntrup
Published: 2/1/2017 2:45:19 PM

Patricia “Paki” Wieland said the atmosphere in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday morning was “quite tense.”

Soon, a packed Washington hearing room — and the world — would know whether Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be the next U.S. attorney general would advance to the full Senate.

“It was quite tense,” said Wieland, a Northampton political activist who has been arrested many times over the years for political protests. “I think a number of us for whom hope springs eternal hoped there might be one or two Republicans who would’ve switched from this blind support of Sessions.”

No such luck for Wieland. A clerk called the roll — first the Republicans, then the Democrats, then Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The Republicans said “aye.” The Democrats said “no.” The nomination was approved on an 11-to-9 party-line vote. The full Senate would consider Sessions’ nomination.

Then, someone shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Grassley banged his gavel and said “meeting over.”

As senators left their seats, cameras focused in on Wieland. Capitol Police yanked her from her spot among the spectators.

The 73-year-old activist wore a pink smock reading “Say No to Islamaphobia.” She shouted, in part, that the Senate had “approved the nomination of a man who will not protect the vulnerable! That’s why we have an attorney general!”

She said in an interview with the Gazette after the hearing she was participating as a member of Code Pink, a network of primarily women anti-war activists advocating that tax dollars be redirected from the military to health care, the environment, education and other causes.

“We don’t need another attorney general who is on record — this is not hearsay — for taking positions that are opposed to protecting women, gays, lesbians and African Americans who have been under attack,” she told the Gazette.

Wieland said she planned on heckling the committee if it approved Sessions’ nomination. Wieland was arrested and charged with disruption of Congress, said Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police. Malecki said Wieland was “citation released,” meaning she was released with the understanding that she would appear in court for a Feb. 15 arraignment.

What Wieland will dispute in court, she said, is whether she disrupted the hearing itself. The votes were cast by the time Wieland started yelling, but Grassley had yet to gavel the hearing to a close, according to available audio and video.

Wieland said she has been in the nation’s capital since before President Donald Trump’s inauguration and will be until her arraignment — and when the Congress recesses — on Feb. 15.

When reached Wednesday afternoon, Wieland was walking to another protest, this time joining a crowd on the House of Representatives side of the Capitol.

Sessions background

Sessions has drawn criticism from liberal groups since his nomination. If confirmed by the full Senate, he will oversee the Department of Justice and its 113,000 employees. The department has a hand in everything from drug enforcement to defense of voting rights.

Sessions has a long resume, much of it in the legal realm. He served as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama from 1981 to 1993. He was Alabama attorney general from 1995 to 1997, before becoming a U.S. senator. In the Senate, he has served on the Judiciary Committee.

One notable setback: In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions for a federal judgeship, but his nomination was opposed by civil rights groups, including the NAACP. The Republican-led Judiciary Committee voted down his nomination.

In the Senate, Sessions has opposed a provision in the Voting Rights Act that was struck down in a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It required federal government oversight of election laws in states with a history of discriminatory voting laws.

He is also opposed to legalization of marijuana which remains illegal under federal law but which eight states, including Massachusetts, have legalized.

Sessions has also opposed same-sex marriage and abortion, including the landmark Roe v. Wade decision — though, notably, in his confirmation hearing, Sessions recognized Roe v. Wade as “the law of the land” and said “I will follow that decision” when asked about a 2015 Supreme Court ruling establishing a nationwide right to same-sex marriage.

Sessions opposes the closing of a detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also takes a hard line view on illegal immigration, voting against 2013 legislation that would have allowed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.


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