Two weeks after the Berkeley protests against the Berkeley College Republicans’ invitation to Milo Yiannopoulos which raised the issue of freedom of speech, the Senate gave a bad example of limiting this freedom during an important vote.
President #Donald Trump's nomination of Jess Sessions was a controversial choice for the new Administration’s Attorney General. The weeks of the confirmation period were dogged by accusations of racial intolerance and other matters involving the nominee, including his failure to be appointed as a Federal court judge in the past..
Due to the Republican majority in the Senate there was no real doubt that the nomination would be confirmed, yet the Senate Democrats fought the decision until the end hoping to gain dissenting votes from Republicans,
In particular Senator #Elizabeth Warren tried to sway the vote by reading from a letter by Martin Luther Kings’s widow #coretta scott king referring to the man who was about to become Attorney General.
After warnings from the Republican leaders Senator Warren was formally rebuked by the Senate for her attempt and she was silenced.
As Time Magazine reported Senator Warren “Quoting King technically put Warren in violation of Senate rules for "impugning the motives" of Sessions, though senators have said far worse.” This was despite the fact that the letter had been written ten years before Sessions’ election to the Senate..
The arcane Senate rule did not allow her to read from the letter, but the side effect of the Senate’s decision was to put the letter even more in the spot light. Not only did #Elizabeth Warren put it up on her website, but the letter was also published by a number of newspapers and other online pages, thus ensuring that the public was aware of the issues regarding the new Attorney General.
Another side effect was to raise the image of the Senator from Massachusetts and to place her as a leading candidate for the White House in 2020, an unwanted contribution by the Republican Party.
This incident did nothing to prevent Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, but it did raise two important considerations.
The first involves the rule raised to silence Senator Warren. The process confirming a nominee for important positions involves the Senate, thus does the invocation of this rule on February 8th on Elizabeth Warren now mean that any Senator subject to a confirmation hearing is effectively immune from any negative comments in regards to the nomination? This is a matter that must be clarified for the future as it may be the cause of much controversy in future confirmation hearings..
The second consideration is much more important, can the Senate limit the right of #Freedom Of Expression protected by the Constitution? The decision to silence the Bostonian politician did not allow her to legitimately present a case under consideration by the Senate and thus denied her the right of freedom of expression.
Any decision by the Senate affects the country and the tactics used by the Senate Republicans to silence dissention by an opposition Senator may well have unexpected consequences in the future. Did Senate Leader Mitch McConnell consider this when he moved that Elizabeth Warren be silenced?