Jeff Sessions hearing: Activist's giggle leads to conviction

Story highlights

  • Desiree Fairooz was convicted of unlawful conduct
  • She says she made a 'reflexive noise' during Sessions' hearing

(CNN)What started as a chuckle during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing for attorney general escalated into a court case and a conviction for the woman behind the laugh.

If you weren't listening closely, you'd have missed Desiree Fairooz 's laughter about 35 minutes into the January hearing.
It lasted a few seconds, but Fairooz is paying the price months later. Fairooz was convicted of unlawful conduct this week in the District of Columbia Superior Court in Washington. Here's what happened:

    What caused the outburst?

    A C-SPAN video of the feed shows the laughter started when fellow Republican Sen. Richard Shelby started discussing Sessions' "extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law."
    Sessions has been accused by some -- including Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., -- of being biased against African Americans.
    The laughter lasted three seconds and Shelby continued with his speech without acknowledging the disturbance.
    In a statement, Fairooz said she let out a spontaneous "reflexive noise" because Shelby's description was not true.
    "It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance," she said.
    She said she has concerns that Sessions, who is now attorney general, will "not enforce equal protection of the law" to marginalized groups.

    What was she charged with?

    Shortly after the disruption, police hauled Fairooz out of the room. She carried a placard that said "Support civil rights, stop Sessions" and yelled "Why I'm I being taken out of here? This man is evil."
    Fairooz and two fellow members of self-described anti-war group Code Pink were arrested during the hearing on January 10.
    She was found guilty of two counts of unlawful conduct on capitol grounds, court records show.
    The two other members were convicted on charges of parading or demonstrating, according to The New York Times. It said all three are awaiting sentencing in June, and face months in prison and hundreds of dollars in fines.
    CNN has reached out to the US Attorney's Office, but has not heard back.

    What's Code Pink?

    The group describes itself as a grassroots organization that fights for peace and human rights initiatives.
    It lists a series of things it opposes, including the US war in Afghanistan, torture, the detention center at Guantanamo and spy drones.
    The group, founded in 2002, is not new to causing trouble and disrupting Congressional hearings.
    In 2007, an especially aggressive Code Pink protester confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she got set to testify before a House committee. The protester was waving bloody hands at Rice and repeatedly accusing her of being a "war criminal."
    That protester was Fairooz.

    Why did Code Pink target Sessions?

    When it comes to race issues, Sessions has a complicated past.
    In 1986, he was denied a federal judgeship after reports he made racist remarks that implied he supported the Ku Klux Klan. During the confirmation hearings this year, Sessions didn't wait for his record on race to be brought up before addressing it.
    "I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology," he said.
    Sessions' supporters say he has changed since those allegations.