The wife of late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, voiced opposition in 1986 to then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions' nomination to the federal bench in a nine-page letter that was made public Tuesday.
"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," King wrote in the letter to then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond.
"Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship."
The letter, published in full by The Washington Post, comes as congressional hearings continue for the Alabama senator, who was nominated to serve as attorney general under President-elect Donald Trump.
Sessions was serving as a federal prosecutor in Alabama's southern district in 1986 when he was nominated for a federal judgeship.
"The irony of Mr. Sessions' nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods," King wrote.
She focused particularly on his work in prosecuting a voter fraud case in Perry County, work that she said was "politically motivated" and ultimately focused on "the wide-scale chill of the exercise of the ballot for blacks." The case targeted a trio of black community organizers working in Perry County, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s former aide, Albert Turner. They were ultimately acquitted.
"The denial of access to the ballot box ultimately results in the denial of other fundamental rights," King wrote. "It is my strongly held view that the appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past 20 years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system."
The letter was first reported Tuesday by BuzzFeed News. The news site reported that Thurman never put the letter into the congressional record. It was not clear why.
The only previous evidence of the letter came in the form of a 1986 story from Knight Ridder reporter Aaron Epstein, who published a single line from King's letter, according to BuzzFeed.
"For a century, the racial practices that characterized our region were established and enforced by men who, like Mr. Sessions, protested that they, too, were not personally hostile to blacks," King wrote.
Sessions addressed the case during Tuesday's hearing, AL.com reported.
"I was accused in 1968 (of) failing to protect the voting rights of African-Americans in the Perry County case and condemning civil rights ... these are false charges," he said. "The voter fraud case was in response to pleas from elected officials who claimed the absentee ballot process in which the ballots cast for them was stolen and altered. It was a voting rights case."