U.S. Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) reacts after the inauguration of President Donald Trump in Washington, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Senate Republicans banded together Tuesday night to block Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from reading a letter that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, wrote to oppose a judicial appointment for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) more than 30 years ago.

Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King
Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell resorted to an obscure Senate code to stop Sen. Warren from using the words of Coretta Scott King to question Trump’s pick for U.S. Attorney General. The debate came to a screeching halt when McConnell suddenly interrupted Warren’s speech to a nearly empty chamber, objecting to her use of the 30-year-old letter King wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 when Sessions, then a federal prosecutor in Alabama, was nominated to a federal judgeship. The Republican committee chair at the time was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and never entered it into the record. It was published for the first time last month.


In the thick of King’s letter, she was first warned that her prior use of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s decades-old remarks criticizing Sessions as “a disgrace to the Justice Department” had violated an arcane Senate bylaw that prohibits lawmakers from disparaging a colleague’s integrity on the floor. The letter said that Sessions, who was then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, had used the “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.”

But the move ignited a firestorm of resistance from Democrats and ensured widespread attention to the letter itself. The hashtag #LetLizSpeak, as well as #CorettaScottKing, has been trending on Twitter.