Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III should frighten you. And now that Sessions is the first line of defense against a president whose business conflicts and ties to Russia are under investigation, it's time to be clear about the man Republicans have chosen as the nation's chief law enforcement official. It's time to be clear about who Sessions will fight for, and whom he will fight against, in the years to come.
Sessions will be an attorney general for police unions and constitutional sheriff associations, and for those line officers who believe- against the great weight of evidence- that the profession of policing itself is under attack. When the time comes to commit to federal oversight over police departments that have long exhibited patterns and practices of misconduct or discrimination, Sessions will likely avoid offending law enforcement communities with what he calls "overreach." Vital reforms that would save lives (of both police and civilians) simply won't happen.
What Sessions won't be during his tenure at the Justice Department is an attorney general for those who need his help and support the most. Sessions will not prioritize citizens who have had their lives ruined by racial disparities in policing, or by the persistent use of excessive force by officers who are shielded from accountability. He won't be an attorney general who will side with those consigned by petty judges to cycles of poverty and crime, or those circulating in and out of a new generation of debtors' prisons.
Our new attorney general is the same person who last summer praised Trump for the infamous "Central Park Five" advertisement the mogul took out in 1989, which advocated for the death penalty for a group of teenagers accused of beating and raping a woman. (They ultimately were exonerated, and paid huge settlements for the wrongful convictions they endured-facts that did not dissuade Trump or Sessions from their views.)
Sessions will be an attorney general for prosecutors, naturally, given his background as a prosecutor and the nature of his looming job at Justice. His record suggests that he will be lax in identifying and punishing those who commit prosecutorial misconduct, say, by withholding material exculpatory evidence in criminal cases. In fact, he's on record saying that he sees rogue prosecutors as victims of defense attorneys. The cost of such a cynical view-the human toll as well as the financial one-will be enormous.
Our new attorney general is the same person who last summer praised Trump for that infamous "Central Park Five" advertisement .
Under Sessions' leadership, line prosecutors now will be emboldened to pile on charges (and thus prison terms) for federal drug defendants. This means more men and women convicted of non-violent crimes will face longer prison sentences at a time when our federal prisons are already overcrowded, and when the Bureau of Prisons' budget is already straining to fund other, vital Justice Department priorities-like those of victims' rights groups.
Just as the nation is turning away from mass incarceration, and discovering that crime rates can go down along with incarceration rates, Attorney General Sessions is poised to reverse course. He already made it clear with his opposition to bipartisan sentencing reform last year that he has little compassion or empathy for the families affected by the enforcement of unduly harsh sentencing laws. He has also made this clear with his adamant and relentless opposition to presidential clemency, even in cases of such manifest injustice as to shock the conscience. A whole new generation of men and women, and their families, will be doomed to serve unreasonably long prison terms.
There are two types of prosecutors in the world: Those who care only about convictions, and those who take a broader view of justice. Sessions has made it clear, both in Alabama and on Capitol Hill, that he is the first type of prosecutor.
Sessions' confirmation hearing reminded us that he will be an attorney general for vote suppressors and perpetrators of the voter fraud myth. Under the guise of protecting democracy from a threat that does not exist, he will be an attorney general who allows more jurisdictions to enact voting restrictions that make it harder, or impossible, for the elderly, the poor, and citizens of color to cast a valid ballot. He will be an attorney general who looks for excuses not to file aggressive litigation designed to protect voting rights. He will be an attorney general who is as feckless in this area of the job as he has shown to be fearless in prosecuting dubious voter fraud cases.
Sessions, who cheered the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act and who then refused to support a legislative fix for it, isn't going to turn on a dime and fight back against the next wave of restrictive voting laws.
He will be an attorney general fighting to defend immigration laws and policies that are un-American, and unsafe, and that already have harmed our stature around the world.
A whole new generation of men and women will be doomed to serve unreasonably long prison terms.
So the question today isn't how quickly the progressive legal reforms of the past eight years will be halted during the new attorney general's reign. The question is how far back into our grim history of injustice the new policy choices will take us. Is the Justice Department under Sessions headed back to the Reagan era, when it helped fuel the mass incarceration we face today, and when it was largely blind to racial disparities in criminal justice? Is it headed back to the grim policies of Alabama in the 1990s, when and where Sessions served with so little distinction? Or is it headed back just a decade, to the George W. Bush era at the Justice Department, when partisan hacks gravely damaged the professional reputation of the institution?
There is no mystery about what lies ahead. It's all there in the long public record of Jeff Sessions, in the allies he's courted and the enemies he's made. It's there in the recent history of his views on criminal justice and his long-held positions on voting rights in Alabama and beyond. It's there in the way he failed or refused to adequately fill out his Committee questionnaire or answer subsequent questions about his involvement in the creation of Trump's travel ban. It's there in the way he's ingratiated himself with the malevolent political operatives at the White House. It's there in his long career in law and politics embraced and emboldened by the forces of white supremacy, white nationalism, and fear of demographic change.
Jeff Sessions is going to be a fantastic attorney general for some of the people who voted for Donald Trump. For the many millions more who did not, however, Jeff Sessions as attorney general will be another constant, daily, ruinous reminder of the enormous step backward the nation has just taken for those who most need the protection of the law and an honest broker at the Justice Department. To paraphrase the late Antonin Scalia: "This wolf comes as a wolf"-and none of us should be surprised at what happens next.
Andrew Cohen is a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, a senior editor at The Marshall Project, and a senior legal analyst for CBS News/60 Minutes.
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