Republicans in Washington could have responded to an obvious need to moderate their party. Instead, GOP members of the Senate have put one of their most conservative members into a position that will be crucial in the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice.
In his position, Sessions will be the public face of the party and will set the tone for contentious battles in issues ranging from immigration to abortion. His reaction to nominees, his attitude and his line of questioning will be a public signal of what the GOP intends to be.
The prevailing opinion — especially with the elevation of Sessions to minority leadership on Judiciary — is that the GOP will be a party that caters to Southern whites and a cluster of allies in the upper West. That opinion carries that the GOP will be hostile to immigrants and minority rights and that it will be the party of knocking down ideas, not a party that fosters them.
Let's hope the GOP won't continue down that road. We say that not only because Sessions is from Alabama, or because he is that rare Alabama politician ascending to a national leadership role. Though we've strongly disagreed with Sessions on a number of past issues, we say these things because the senator can be a fair and honest politician.
Sessions knows how it feels to drill a nominee with tough questions, but he also knows how it is to be drilled.
Democrats and a handful of Republicans — including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — joined to block Sessions' confirmation to the federal court when he was nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Sessions has always said he was misunderstood and that comments used against him were distorted. He will not, he seems to say now, let that happen to others. A sense of fair play, we strongly suspect, will guide Sessions in the battles that could be looming.
Hear him when he says tough is one thing, but being unfair to a nominee is quite another.
"I don't mind tough questions of a nominee," Sessions told the press on Monday. "I support that. I think in the past, too often, that people have been inaccurate and unfair to the nominee, both sides."
So go forward, Sen. Sessions, and make Alabama proud. And stick to that notion of fairness.