Attorney General Jeff Sessions: A Year in Review
A year ago last week, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as the 84th United States Attorney General following a contentious Senate debate about his suitability for the role. At the time, detractors such as the NAACP and ACLU noted his historic lack of commitment to civil rights, his hard line stance on immigration, and his anti-LGBT voting record as reasons to deny him the nomination. Over the last year many of these fears have come to fruition as Sessions has acted in opposition to liberal causes and the Obama Justice Department’s positions.
An architect of President Trump’s immigration platform during the campaign, Sessions has lived up to his conservative reputation in the field of immigration. As Attorney General, Sessions has issued warnings to sanctuary cities—cities that are uncooperative with national immigration enforcement by refusing to ask about immigration status while municipal services are accessed—that if they do not comply with the Trump administration’s immigration policies they could lose federal funding. Furthermore, he has continued to be a large advocate for a Mexican-American border wall and pushed the statistically incorrect narrative that undocumented immigrants are a major source of violent crime. Besides his work on undocumented immigration, Sessions has also supported Trump’s infamous “Muslim Ban”, arguing that the executive order was lawful and criticizing the Hawaiian judge who ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.
Besides immigration, Sessions, as expected, has taken a hard line stance on drugs, reversing many of the Obama administrations enforcement directives and revamping the “War on Drugs”. Most notably, Sessions has ordered the justice department to seek the harshest punishment available in drug cases, contrary to the Obama policy of filing charges that would avoid the triggering of mandatory minimums. Sessions has also looked into targeting medical marijuana producers and has released a memo calling on federal prosecutors to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where marijuana has been legalized like Colorado and Washington; under Obama the marijuana industries in these states were largely ignored by federal law enforcement. Lastly, in regard to America’s opioid epidemic, Sessions and the Trump administration have been largely flatfooted—he has peddled the incorrect gateway drug theory in identifying marijuana as a root cause of the problem and views increased imprisonment as a part of the solution to the issue, contrary to most experts who view the opioid epidemic as a health problem rather than a criminal one.
On general criminal justice, Sessions has sent the Justice department back decades. Most notably, Sessions views the death penalty as a valuable tool to deter crime and has sought to increase the use of capital punishment in federal cases; this view is contrary to the public’s declining support for the death penalty which is near a historic low and the Obama and Bush administrations limited use of it. Sessions has also revived civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property believed to be from the proceeds of crime without conviction, and has sought to increase the use of private prisons, which have been embroiled in controversy due to human rights abuses and are viewed as inadequate compared to government institutions.
Aside from his conduct as Attorney General, his conduct as a member of Trump’s campaign and transition team has brought him great amounts of scrutiny over the last year. Since his confirmation by the US senate, evidence about meetings with Russians during the campaign have contradicted his statements during his confirmation hearings leading to allegations of perjury and his recusal from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
As Sessions continues in his role as Attorney General it will be interesting to see how his involvement in Russian interference allegations play out and what policies he will continue to pursue.
Henry Federer is a 2L and the Opinion Editor of Juris Diction.