WASHINGTON (AFP) - Protesters in white cloaks and hoods disrupted the Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday (Jan 10) for Jeff Sessions to be US attorney general, dramatising concerns about his civil rights record.
Donald Trump's choice for the nation's top law enforcement officer is the first of the president-elect's cabinet picks to face a confirmation hearing.
Sessions is expected to undergo a grilling over accusations he made racially charged comments toward and about African-Americans or civil rights early in his professional life.
Even before the panel gavelled in, protesters including several from the anti-war, pro-human-rights group Code Pink stood up and brandished signs that read: "End racism, stop Sessions," and "End hate, stop Sessions."
As he was being greeted by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, two men dressed as Ku Klux Klan members began shouting at Sessions about his past and expressing mock gratitude that such a conservative was in line to be attorney general.
"You can't arrest me, I'm a white man!" bellowed one of the men as he was ushered out by US Capitol Police.
Sessions, 70, is a former federal prosecutor who grew up in the segregated South. He has expressed opposition to immigration, and will be questioned on whether he will follow Trump's campaign call to jail rival Hillary Clinton over her emails.
Some of the harshest accusations against him relate to alleged racism. Sessions' federal judgeship nomination collapsed in the 1980s amid accusations he made racially insensitive comments as a prosecutor.
"This man is evil! His voting record is evil!" shouted a Code Pink protester as she was dragged out of the marbled hearing room.
Sessions began his opening statement by assuring the panel that the attorney general "must be willing to tell the president 'no' if he overreaches." But he also sought to assuage concerns about his past.
"The Department of Justice must never falter in its obligation to protect the civil rights of every American, particularly those who are most vulnerable," he said, affirming his commitment to "ensure access to the ballot for every eligible American voter." "You know that I am a man of my word," he added.
Grassley hailed Sessions as a man whose "record is a life of public service."
"He has done his duty, enforced the law fairly, and let the chips fall where they may," Grassley said.
But protesters were very vocal about Sessions, and the incoming Trump administration.
"Sessions is a racist, he's illegitimate, just like the whole Trump regime," shouted an African-American man as he was escorted out.