A woman who laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ congressional confirmation hearings has been prosecuted and could serve up to one year in prison. Desiree Fairooz, along with two other activists, attended the hearing in January dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member.
Early in the hearing, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby remarked that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well documented.” This drew scoffing laughter from three activists from women’s rights activist organization Code Pink, who jurors say disrupted the hearing as they were arrested and escorted out of the chamber.
Desiree Fairooz was found guilty on two counts: “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings and a separate charge of parading, demonstrating, or picketing. The other two activists arrested with Desiree, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, were found guilty of two of three counts, but not disorderly conduct.
Jurors, seemingly aware of the chilling effect the verdict could have on those who practice civil disobedience, were quick to note that Fairooz was not convicted for laughing or expressing derision of the political process, but rather for disrupting the hearing while she was being removed.
“Ms. Fairooz’s comments as she was being escorted out caused the session to stop,” the jury foreperson said. “It disrupted the session.”
During the two-day trial, the government argued Fairooz “created a scene after scoffing at Senator Shelby’s comments and then yelling that Senator Sessions’ voting record was ‘evil,’ while simultaneously waving a sign that read: ‘support civil right stop sessions.’”
The jurors also noted that they disagreed with rookie Capitol police officer Katherine Coronado’s decision to arrest Fairooz as a result of the laugh. Nevertheless, they found her guilty of momentarily disrupting a court during one of the most contentious congressional hearings in modern history.
Before the verdict, Ms. Fairooz issued a statement:
I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to dissent at the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions, a man who professes anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT policies, who has voted against several civil rights measures and who jokes about the white supremacist terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan.