Political Noise Shouldn't Overshadow Sessions' Impact By Nicky Riordan
Jeff Sessions has been hard at work issuing directives and reversing key Obama-era policies around civil rights and criminal justice, despite public criticism by President Trump and a related media firestorm. Sessions has taken aim in recent months at discrimination protection under Title VII, sanctuary cities, and easing of mandatory minimums.
News broke yesterday that the Justice Department is looking to redirect resources from its civil rights division to investigate and potentially sue universities over “affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.” Regardless of the President’s thoughts, it's important to focus on what the AG is doing apart from the Russia investigation.
Last week, the Department filed an unusual friend-of-the-court brief in a case regarding workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation rescinding the previous interpretation made by President Obama’s Justice Department that Title VII includes protections from this type of discrimination. The brief came on the same day that President Trump tweeted out his support for a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, and cited the federal government as the “largest employer in the country” with a “substantial and unique interest” on this issue.
The Justice Department under Sessions also recently doubled down on efforts to punish sanctuary cities by again threatening to withhold federal funding if they do not comply with immigration authorities. The Department argues that local agencies must allow the Department of Homeland Security access to their jails and 48 hours notice when an undocumented immigrant will be released from custody. Previous attempts to crack down on sanctuary cities have been blocked in federal court; however, intensified rhetoric has effectively elevated fears among the immigrant population and created ripple effects throughout their communities regardless.
Most notably, Sessions has reversed key criminal justice reforms with bipartisan support in recent months. He withdrew a 2013 directive under Attorney General Holder that allowed judges to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentencing in low-level drug cases, and he has expressed public support for such sentencing. Legislators and activists from both sides of the aisle argue that these laws have increased the prison population to unsustainable levels, and have created more problems than they have solved.
Additionally, Sessions has set his sights on increasing the use of asset forfeiture, a controversial practice of law enforcement officers to seize property from individuals suspected of a crime. Abuse of this practice has been well-documented, and critics argue that the profit motive for local law enforcement creates a dangerous incentive.
The exact motives behind the President’s recent attacks are unclear as is Sessions’ future as Attorney General. For now, Sessions is leading the Justice Department in a very clear direction as one of the more impactful Cabinet members in the Trump administration.
Nicky Riordan (@nriordan120), Political Analyst, Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research