The Trouble with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

AG-USBy Michael Waldman

Donald Trump just picked Sen. Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, to be his nominee for the next Attorney General of the United States. That’s unsettling news for anyone who cares about civil rights in America.

For the last eight years, we had a Justice Department that stood up for the Constitution. Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch defended the right to vote and worked to reform our broken criminal justice system.

Sessions and Trump, harnessing a campaign that gave voice to a toxic mix of racism, misogyny and xenophobia, will try to undo that progress.

Start with Sessions himself. In 1986, a conservative U.S. Senate blocked his nomination for a federal judgeship due to his racist actions and words. According to testimony at the time, Sessions had agreed that a prominent white attorney defending African-American clients was “a disgrace to his race.” A black prosecutor said Sessions called him “boy.”

He is also the country’s most anti-immigrant senator, and we’re not only talking here about aggressive deportation of undocumented immigrants. He even opposes many forms of legal immigration. Emma Lazarus, he’s not.

Out of the 320 million people in the United States, it’s hard to find a more alarming choice.

Why does it matter? The Justice Department is charged with defending our most fundamental right, voting. Under Obama, the department helped challenged discriminatory laws nationwide.

A Texas law was blocked for 2016, helping 608,000 people without photo ID. In North Carolina, where a court ruled cuts to early voting were targeted with “surgical precision” to exclude African Americans, the DOJ and others, stepped up.

The Supreme Court curbed the department’s powers in 2013 when it gutted the core of the Voting Rights Act. Sessions has called that landmark law a “piece of intrusive legislation.”

This means the department might unilaterally disarm. If so, will they switch sides and back vote suppressors instead of voters?

Trump also said the elections were “rigged” due to “voter fraud.” Even ardent Republican officials said no, there was no massive fraud. Now Sessions can put those paranoid declarations into action.

Less known, but equally vital, is the attorney general’s approach to criminal justice.

Prosecutors must uphold the law and ensure safety. Holder and Lynch did so, lowering crime while making our system more efficient.

Their smart crime program moved away from automatically harsh punishment for low-level crimes. They understood that drug treatment often works better than incarceration. They knew that in some places like New York, incarceration rates and violent crime fell in tandem.

There was encouraging bipartisan movement on criminal justice reform in 2016. Everyone from Paul Ryan and the Koch brothers to Cory Booker and the Brennan Center fought for change. But Sessions was one of a handful of senators who torpedoed a GOP-backed bill to reduce strict sentencing laws.

He’s also said Obama’s practice of commuting punitive sentences would “inflict long-term harm on the nation.”

Now, he’s ready to transfer the raw energy of Trump’s rallies into the sober tools of America’s highest law enforcement office. That’s a scary prospect.

Finally, many other worries lurk in the details.

The executive has much potential power to abuse civil liberties. These have expanded in recent years, even under Obama.

Will Sessions’ Justice Department restrain the FBI from violating rights? Will it defend LGBT rights, as Lynch did in North Carolina? Will it crack down on the concentration of monopoly power, an issue so many Trump supporters railed against this election season?

This a real test for Congress.

When considered for a judgeship in the age of Reagan, Sessions was deemed too extreme. Will the Senate allow him to glide to confirmation now? Or will it uphold checks and balances and ask the tough questions? The GOP controls the Senate by only two votes. Will any stand up against this extreme choice?

Will the honorable, career professionals who carry over from one administration to another follow the law, despite the whims of new, extreme political supervisors?

For all who care about the rule of law, this fight — the fight for the heart of our Constitution — has only just begun.

Michael Waldman is President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving the systems of democracy and justice.   Article initially appeared on Brennan Center for Justice website.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

47 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    For the last eight years, we had a Justice Department that stood up for the Constitution.

    That’s laughable at best.  For the last eight years we’ve had AG’s that were involved in one controversy after another and were nothing more than political shills for Obama.

        1. Jerry Waszczuk

          BP

          What you are talking about  ? This article was written by  the  President of  the  nonpartisan law and policy institute .  The name of the institute is speaking for  itself . I don’t understand what is your concern .

        2. Barack Palin

          Jerry, just because an organization claims to be non-partisan doesn’t make it so.  Brennan was a very liberal judge on the Supreme Court and the Brennan Center for Justice receives funding through a George Soros organization.

          Brennan Center for Justice: This think tank/legal activist group generates scholarly studies, mounts media campaigns, files amicus briefs, gives pro bono support to activists, and litigates test cases in pursuit of radical “change.”
          http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237

           The organization is headed by Michael Waldman. Name ring a bell?According to his bioat the Brennan website, Waldman did a bit of work for Bill Clinton back when Clinton was president. In fact, Waldman was “responsible for writing or editing nearly 2,000 speeches, including four State of the Union and two inaugural addresses.”
          Can you imagine a think tank run by someone who wrote that many speeches for George W. Bush — that manymajor speeches — being described on MSNBC as “non partisan”? The chances of this, to put it charitably, are nil. Instead, you’d hear it derided as “radical.”
          Not only that, the Brennan Center is a major beneficiary of financial contributions from an organization backed by left-wing financier George Soros

          http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/jack-coleman/2012/06/15/ezra-klein-describes-soros-funded-brennan-center-non-partisan

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > What specific actions do you believe were taken that did not

      > uphold the Constitution during this administration

      The administration does not seem to be aware that there is a 2nd amendment to the Constitution (and the right wing NRA has been fighting him in court) or a 4th amendment to the Constitution (and the left wing ACLU has been fighting him in court).

      P.S. Here are a few more:

      https://tisaboutfreedom.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/a-list-of-obamas-constitutional-violations/

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        Nor was Eric Holder aware that there is a 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Or, if he was aware, he had either failed to read it or failed to understand it.

        I’m certainly not endorsing Sessions by comparison; I just don’t care for selective memory and rewriting of history.

      2. Tia Will

        SOD

        I applaud you presenting your examples. I am clearly not a legal scholar, however I would point out that the lengthy list you posted from a legal scholar was clearly from an individual with a  conservative point of view. This does not mean that he is incorrect, but I am willing to bet that President Obama’s legal counsellors, doubtless also legal scholars would likely have a very different view of whether these are actual breeches of the constitution. The fact that not all legal scholars are in agreement over the meaning of various clauses of our constitution can be found in the frequent differences of opinion of our Supreme Court justices who often divide along political/philosophic differences in perspective.

        1. South of Davis

          Tia wrote:

          > I would point out that the lengthy list you posted from a legal scholar was

          > clearly from an individual with a  conservative point of view.

          You asked about the current administration, but you can spend the rest of the day reading about unconstitutional things that Bush did from a “liberal point of view”.

          While there are exceptions most people don’t seen to care if an elected official on “their team” ignores the constitution (or tells lies).

          http://harpers.org/blog/2009/03/george-w-bushs-disposable-constitution/

           

      1. hpierce

        Just remember another Executive Order issued by a Republican president… most folk know it as ‘the Emancipation Proclamation’.  In clear violation of the Constitution as it deprived some folk of their “property rights” without due process.  Yet, …

  2. Barack Palin

    Another hysteria article on what might happen.
    But if opinions translated into reality, Mrs. Clinton would be getting her measurements for her inaugural gown done this week. It was also predicted the markets would experience the biggest collapse in modern history if Trump won, instead Wall Street is experiencing what’s being called a Trump rally and we’re seeing all time highs.  I’m of the opinion, they have no clue what’s going to happen, just liberal induced fear mongering.

    1. Alan Miller

      Another hysteria article on what might happen.

      Obviously, BP, The Vanguard is the place to argue hypothetical national politics, because ‘we are in a crisis right now’, and ‘these are dark times’, and ‘these are challenging times’, and’ in light of the election results’, and every other F-ing cliche that everyone seems obligated to place in every group email I’ve received in the last two weeks.

      1. South of Davis

        Alan wrote:

        > every other F-ing cliche that everyone seems

        > obligated to place in every group email I’ve

        > received in the last two weeks.

        I’m guessing that Alan has also has received more than one e-mail that referenced the new administrations “toxic mix of racism, misogyny and xenophobia”

        For all the open minded people getting crazy negative e-mails from their left wing friends the good news is that they will probably taper off like the crazy negative e-mails from right wingers that were flying out on a daily basis after Obama got elected (and didn’t impost sharia law or come door to door to confiscate guns)…

        I find it funny that the same people that are “shocked and outraged” about anyone who would call a woman “Miss Piggy” don’t have any problems with the (far worse) things that Bill and Hillary called Monica Lewinsky (and the other women Bill had “relationships” with)…

      2. hpierce

        It is “the end of times”, so you can have another cliche (can’t figure how to put the accent mark here)… and I agree with your post @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ about the 98.463% level….

      3. Tia Will

        Alan

        For a different point of view on the change in conversation on the Vanguard, I would like to point out that anyone has always been able to write their own article on a subject of importance to them whether a national, state, county or local issue. My own series of articles on the Daleiden vs Planned Parenthood tapes would be a case in point. This was an issue of great importance to me and although it did not have direct impact on the vast majority of the typical participant in posting on the Vanguard, David posted everyone of them. I have yet to see him turn down any article ( ok, one of mine didn’t make the cut ) written by anyone if it met Vanguard article standards. I do not see this situation as any different, unless of course one does not see the election as an important event in our lives…..in which case I would advise what I advised on my own articles. If not interested, please feel free not to read.

    2. hpierce

      Just for fun… both candidates appeared to be “obese”… the “measurements” comment caught my attention… will the president-elect appoint any woman (or man) who doesn’t have a C or D cup size?

  3. Tia Will

    BP

    So you are not at all troubled that Sessons, rejected by a conservative US Senate, who has actively worked to maintain separation of educational opportunities by race, and who has never repudiated his previous race based statements and actions is being placed in a position of power with regard to civil rights ?  This is not hysteria. These are historic facts. I believe that the best predictor of a person’s future actions is his/her own previous actions. Not fiction, not made up objections or speculation, but their own words and actions. I am not seeing how there is room for denial that this man is a racist and will continue to act as racists act.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I believe that the best predictor of a person’s future

      > actions is his/her own previous actions.

      Were you worried that Hillary was going to ban gay marriage since she was “previously” against it, or do you just use “previous” actions to predict the actions of conservatives?

      1. Tia Will

        South of Davis

        As I have previously stated, I believe that people can evolve on issues. However when they do so, they usually base this on some change in thinking based on additional information or evidence and they usually give some kind of explanation regarding what they now see as their previous error. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Sessions has not publicly repudiated his prior beliefs but has remained a staunch defender of segregated education.

        Please, if you know of statements that he has made indicating that he has changed his previously erroneous beliefs, post the evidence and I would be happy to reconsider. I only stated that I had not found any, not that they did not exist.

  4. Topcat

    It will be interesting to see how the issue of marijuana law plays out.  I see potential clashes between federal and state law over this issue.  I don’t see Mr. Trump as being particularly anti-marijuana, so perhaps he’ll tell sessions to “back off” and let the states set their own marijuana policies.

    This could have a local impact because it could cause problems for any possible dispensaries that are opened to take advantage of California’s legalization under proposition 64.

  5. South of Davis

    Michael wrote:

    > Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch defended the right to vote

    It would have been more accurate to write “by striking down voter ID laws Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch defended the right of illegal aliens to vote while also protecting the rights of Black Panthers [moderator: edited]

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203550604574361071968458430

    P.S. Any idea if the new AP stylebook requires every article about the Trump administration to say “toxic mix of racism, misogyny and xenophobia”?

    1. Barack Palin

       Any idea if the new AP stylebook requires every article about the Trump administration to say “toxic mix of racism, misogyny and xenophobia”?

      Comes right out of the Democrat playbook.

    2. hpierce

      You do realize how voter ID laws have been used, and the fact that everyone in CA signs a roster that requires them, under the penalty of perjury, that they are who they say they are, and that they are eligible to vote?  Every time they vote…

      1. South of Davis

        hpierce wrote:

        > everyone in CA signs a roster that requires them, under the

        > penalty of perjury, that they are who they say they are, and

        > that they are eligible to vote?

        Everyone also checks a box that says “I Have Read & Agreed to the Above Terms and Conditions” before updating their software.

        Do you think everyone that checks the box has really read the “above terms and conditions”(or that everyone that buys stuff when visiting Oregon saves their receipts so they can pay CA sales tax on every item they bring home)?

      2. Alan Miller

        everyone in CA signs a roster that requires them, under the penalty of perjury, that they are who they say they are, and that they are eligible to vote?

        And if they lie on the roster, election cops can go to the roster to see who they aren’t, so they can be arrested for perjury . . . that works!

      1. Tia Will

        Adam

        I believe that this would fit right in with our president elects love for the poorly educated.

        Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, and state education officials argued that Detroit students have no fundamental right to literacy, asking a federal judge to reject a lawsuit about the quality of education and conditions at the city’s schools.”

        as quoted from :

        https://www.rt.com/usa/367823-detroit-students-literacy-right/

         

         

        1. quielo

          Tia, I understand that this is all over the  left wing echo chamber  but it still does not make any sense  to me. The Detroit schools get more than $18K per pupil per year, or about double what Davis schools get while they have a lower cost of living. Other than providing funds the governor of Michigan is not more involved with Detroit schools than  our  Governor is with LA schools.  Detroit has a largely black electorate who  has consistently elected a black school board who is in charge of the schools and they have had a large (relative to other districts) amount of money to spend.

          Given the above why is the poor performance of  the schools the governor’s fault?

        2. quielo

          “Michigan appears to spend federal welfare money in ways that doesn’t appear to help those who most need it” 

           

          It would not surprise me that the major problem is the poor management of the school district. The solution is that the governor should disenfranchise the black electorate and remove the black school board from decision making or otherwise he is a racist? I’ve seen this stuff posted numerous times but nobody has yet explained what the remedy is.

        3. wdf1

          The problem with schools in many lower income communities is that the quality of the entire education system is based on performance on standardized tests, particular in math and English.  Therefore it creates the impression and expectation that that’s the thing to focus on, when in fact that’s not really the main issue.

          But performance on standardized test scores has been the national basis for determining that schools should be shut down and teachers & principals fired.

          Using those same measures (standardized test scores in math and English), it doesn’t make any difference if the governor gets involved or if the school is turned over to a private charter chain.  It won’t get better.

        4. wdf1

          quielo:  Detroit has a largely black electorate who  has consistently elected a black school board who is in charge of the schools and they have had a large (relative to other districts) amount of money to spend.

          Charter schools in Detroit are not subject to the same standards of accountability as traditional public schools.  Betsy DeVos, nominee for federal Secretary of Education, and active donor in Michigan Republican politics has something to do with it.

          DeVos family showers GOP with contributions after DPS vote

          DPS = Detroit Public Schools

        5. wdf1

          Betsy DeVos and the Wrong Way to Fix Schools

          NEW ORLEANS — President-elect Donald J. Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education has sent shock waves through the educational establishment. Understandably so, since this is a clear sign that Mr. Trump intends a major national push to direct public funds to private and charter schools. But this is more than just a political or financial loss for traditional public schools. It will also most likely be a loss for students.

          The choice of Ms. DeVos might not seem surprising. Mr. Trump has, after all, proposed $20 billion to finance “school choice” initiatives and Ms. DeVos supports these ideas. Yet of all the candidates the transition team was apparently considering, Ms. DeVos has easily the worst record.

          As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, she is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country. At least some of the other candidates for education secretary, like Michelle Rhee, the former District of Columbia schools chancellor, led reforms that were accompanied by improved student results.

          Consider this: Detroit is one of many cities in the country that participates in an objective and rigorous test of student academic skills, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The other cities participating in the urban version of this test, including Baltimore, Cleveland and Memphis, are widely considered to be among the lowest-performing school districts in the country.

          Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far. One well-regarded study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools. The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit. As someone who has studied the city’s schools and used to work there, I am saddened by all this.

        6. quielo

          Do I understand correctly that the “biggest school reform disaster”  is that “Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools.”?

          Sounds horrible…

           

          So what remedy are they expecting from the Governor?

           

        7. wdf1

          quielo:  Do I understand correctly that the “biggest school reform disaster”  is that “Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools.”?

          Sounds horrible…

          So what remedy are they expecting from the Governor?

          It probably means that they’re going at it in the wrong way.  It doesn’t bode well for having DeVos as Secretary of Education if she doesn’t see the problem.

      1. wdf1

        SoD:  The “surge” could also be that the people in well educated counties didn’t want a black president (but won’t ever say this)…

        …or what I think likelier, is that we’re self-sorting.  If one gets a college degree, you’re likelier to move to an area where more residents have college degrees — they’re more like you.  Over time, then, counties have higher and higher concentrations of college-educated voters, from one presidential election to the next.

  6. Tia Will

    SO

    D

    While there are exceptions most people don’t seen to care if an elected official on “their team” ignores the constitution (or tells lies)

    As a general propensity, I agree with this statement. However, as I also have stated previously, it does not matter to me who is doing the drone killing of civilians, or lying, or ignoring ( or more likely twisting the wording of the constitution to fit their goals ) for me it is morally wrong and I do not approve no matter who is in the White House

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for