February 8, 2017
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was officially silenced by her Republican colleagues Tuesday evening (Feb. 7) during a contentious confirmation hearing for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general.
As part of the debate, Warren read a 1986 letter written by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, to the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary, in which King opposed Sessions’ nomination as a federal district court judge for the southern district of Alabama. The letter reads, in part, “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell objected under Rule XIX, which prohibits debating senators from ascribing “to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”
Republicans forced Warren to stop speaking in a 49-43 party-line vote. She is now barred from speaking on the Senate floor until Sessions’ confirmation hearing is finished. He is expected to be confirmed by a final vote this evening (Feb. 8).
The unexpected move launched a Democratic uproar on social media, including the creation of the hashtag #LetLizSpeak. Warren later read the full text of King’s letter outside the Senate chamber on Facebook, attracting more than 2 million views.
This morning, Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, read King’s entire letter and had it entered into the Senate record.
Joel Sievert, a visiting instructor in the Texas Tech University Department of Political Science, is an expert on American political institutions, including Congress, the presidency, American political development and separation of powers. He can discuss the confirmation process and what this now means for Warren and her role in it.
Joel Sievert, visiting instructor, (806) 834-4103 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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