The woman arrested after laughing out loud during US attorney general Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing will be sentenced on Friday (14 June), facing up to a year in prison.
Department of Justice prosecutors are asking a judge to uphold a jury’s previous guilty verdict on two counts: one for “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings, and one for “parading, demonstrating or picketing”.
During the January hearing, Desiree Fairooz – an activist with the women-initiated Code Pink group – laughed when Republican senator Richard Shelby said Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented”.
Sessions was a controversial choice by President Trump for the role, after being rejected as a federal judge in the Eighties – only the second person in 50 years to have his appointment denied by the Senate – over serious concerns about his views on race, including having been accused of using a racial slur and telling a black assistant to be careful how he spoke to “white folks”, which he denied. In the January hearing, he denied accusations of racism as “damnably false charges”.
Fairooz, along with two other activists who had protested by wearing Ku Klux Klan costumes, could be handed a jail sentence of up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,000 (£1,555).
“I just couldn’t hold it,” Fairooz (pictured in main image second from right) later said of her laughter. “It was spontaneous. It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance.
“None of us planned to get arrested. We just wanted to be a visible symbol of dissent.”
According to papers filed by the prosecutor, Fairooz “grew loud and more disruptive” as she was removed from the room by a police officer.
An anonymous jury member reportedly told huffingtonpost.com that it was her actions following the laughter that they focused on. As she was removed by officer Katherine Coronado, Fairooz raised a protest sign and shouted: “Do not vote for Jeff Sessions!”
The government argued that these actions meant “that her laugh was an intentional, loud statement of disagreement” and given she had a sign ready to wave, the jury “then could reasonably view the resulting disruption as both an intentional and foreseeable result of the defendant’s course of conduct”.
Following the May verdict, she told jezebel.com: “I don’t regret having laughed. At the moment, I didn’t think anything was going to happen.
“I was charged with parading, but they paraded me. It was maddening. I was upset at that point and I thought this was unjust and that they were just making an example of me. And then I thought well, they’re going to arrest me, I might as well have my message up while they do so. And that’s when I held the sign.”
As The Guardian reported in May, the arrest was ironic given that Sessions has previously complained that “Nobody has a sense of humour anymore” following a widely condemned ‘joke’ about Hawaii he made when district judge Derrick Watson blocked Trump’s travel ban (“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”).
Fairooz responded to the verdict on the Code Pink website, saying she would “continue to speak out against injustice.”
Main image: Rex Features