WASHINGTON -- A black former assistant to Jefferson Sessions III, President Reagan's nominee to the federal bench in Alabama, said Thursday Sessions once referred to him as 'boy' and made other racist remarks.
Thomas Figures, until last July an assistant U.S.attorney, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Sessions, the U.S. attorney in Mobile, Ala., since 1981, should not be confirmed as a U.S. district judge.
'I am convinced the committee should disapprove his nomination,' Figures said during the panel's third day of hearings on the controversial nomination. 'The statements he has made fall far short of the high standards that should be required of a federal judge.'
Sessions, however, said the charge he called Figures 'boy' was 'absolutely untrue.'
Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., who nominated Sessions, said he found the charge 'so incredible that it makes me wonder that others can find it credible.'
Civil rights groups object to Sessions's nomination because they say he improperly prosecuted three civil rights leaders for voter fraud in Alabama's Perry County. The three were acquitted. Justice Department officials have defended Sessions's action.
Justice Department attorney J. Gerald Hebert earlier told the committee that Sessions had referred to the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union as 'un-American' groups.
Sessions replied the 'un-American' remark was taken out of context. On Thursday, Figures also said Sessions had made similar comments to him.
'Mr. Sessions ... stated that he believed the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Operation PUSH and the National Council of Churches were all un-American organizations teaching anti-American values,' Figures testified. 'The statement clearly was not intended as a joke.'
Figures also said he was present when Sessions said he believed the Ku Klux Klan was OK until he learned its members smoked marijuana -- a statement Sessions has said was clearly made in jest.
'I certainly took it as a serious statement,' Figures said.
Asked by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whether Sessions had made any other similar remarks, Figures replied, 'I was regularly called, 'boy.'
Asked by Kennedy who had made the remark, Figures said, 'Mr. Sessions did, one or two of the other assistants.'
Later under questioning by Denton, Figures conceded that he had not used the word 'regularly' and only detailed one alleged instance when Sessions had used the word 'boy.'
Figures refused to detail his charges after his testimony.
Sessions told reporters he had never made such a remark, even in jest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Vulevich, whom Figures also said had called him 'boy,' denied the charge and praised Sessions as 'a man of utmost integrity.'