In 1992 former Senator Edward Kennedy and Coretta Scott King both wrote letters opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the federal bench. This Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren was allowed to read Kennedy’s letter of opposition as she argued against the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General of the United States, but was silenced and banished from the Senate floor for attempting to read the letter from Mrs. King. It was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who demanded she be silenced. Below is the letter I sent to Senator McConnell yesterday:
February 8, 2017
Senator Mitchell McConnell
United States Senate
Dear Senator McConnell,
I write to ask a simple question: Why should I respect the United States Senate?
As a minister, it is hard enough for me to avoid purely partisan response to our current politics. My views differ from yours on a vast array of issues facing our nation today. But I have continued to struggle to place my trust not in short term political outcomes, but in the institutions of our democracy.
Your silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterday, for reading Coretta Scott King’s evaluation of Senator Sessions, is forcing me to question whether our institutions have been so corrupted by greed and power as to no longer be worthy of my respect.
I am African American. Mrs. King spoke for millions of Black and Brown and White and Beige Americans who knew or learned the truth of our history and decided that we could be better, that we should be better than the sad story of racism in this country suggested.
Mrs. King wrote the simple truth about Senator Sessions, simple truth that she had observed directly. Is simple truth to be banned from the Senate floor?
Was it Mrs. King’s gender that made her words of truth toxic to you while those of former Senator Ted Kennedy were not? Or was it Mrs. King’s race? Was it Senator Warren’s gender that demanded you silence her voice, while the voices of male Senators later in the day were acceptable as they read the identical words?
All of those questions are important, but it is the question of respect that troubles me most. When you silence the voice of Mrs. King, you silence my voice. When you force Senator Warren off the Senate floor, you make me and millions of others invisible. You have disrespected the American people and our journey toward a more perfect union by your action.
Why should I respect the United States Senate when you and the Senate you lead seem so clearly not to respect me?
You owe us an apology. You should, in my judgment, apologize to Senator Warren as well. But the two of you are both powerful and popular Senators. The two of you can manage your relationship and work out your own salvation with diligence.
The apology I believe you owe is to the memory of Coretta Scott King, on whose shoulders so many like myself are proud to stand, and to the American people for fouling our reservoir of hope.
I believe deeply in the possibility forgiveness and the possibility of redemption. Both require confession.
I call on you to apologize so that we can reclaim some respect for the United States Senate and some hope for this nation.
Rev. Dr. William Sinkford
First Unitarian Church