The US Department of Justice is still prosecuting Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz because she laughed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing — even after a judge threw out a jury’s initial conviction against her.
The case goes back to January, when Sessions was testifying before the Senate for his attorney general nomination. At one point, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said Sessions’s history of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” Given that Sessions has a long history of opposing the equal treatment of all Americans under the law (from his opposition to voting rights laws to LGBTQ rights), Fairooz apparently found the comment funny and laughed out loud.
Police moved in to arrest Fairooz, apparently seeing her laugh as disruptive. It could have all ended there as a big misunderstanding, with an apology and Fairooz’s release.
Instead, federal prosecutors pursued charges, arguing, Ryan Reilly wrote at HuffPost, that “the laugh amounted to willful ‘disorderly and disruptive conduct’ intended to ‘impede, disrupt, and disturb the orderly conduct’ of congressional proceedings.” For her part, Fairooz has said the laugh was reflexive — and the laugh is hard to make out in video of the hearings, having no notable impact on Shelby’s delivery of his speech.
Vox First Person: I’m facing jail time after laughing at Jeff Sessions. I regret nothing.
In May, however, a jury in a DC court partially agreed with the Justice Department’s argument. They said that they didn’t focus on the moment Fairooz laughed, but rather what happened after she laughed. When a US Capitol Police officer tried to remove her from the hearings for laughing, she allegedly began to loudly protest and appeared to hold up a sign that she had brought to the hearings.
“She did not get convicted for laughing. It was her actions as she was being asked to leave,” the jury foreperson said, according to Reilly at HuffPost. “We did not agree that she should have been removed for laughing.”
But in July, the judge presiding over the case argued that the basis for it all — the laughter that initiated the arrest — was “disconcerting.” He called for a new trial. “The court is concerned about the government’s theory,” Chief Judge Robert Morin said.
Federal prosecutors could have decided to drop the case then and there. But they persisted — and now plan to continue prosecuting Fairooz after she rejected a plea deal that would have involved time served.
The new trial will take place in November. If convicted, Fairooz could face fines and jail time.