Spring Editorial Board 2017
Back in late February of 2016, Alabama’s junior Sen. Jeff Sessions was in a favorable political position.
The Trump train was steaming along Republican primaries decimating nearly everyone who got in its path, and Sessions’ constituents were more than willing to feed it.
And so, Sessions was in a comfortable position to do what many Republicans were afraid to do: He became the first sitting United States senator to give Trump an endorsement.
Sessions’ endorsement sapped away some support from Sen. Ted Cruz’s base, evangelical and tea party voters, and the train trudged onward.
This early gesture of allegiance, plus his nativist stance on immigration, catapulted Sessions toward his candidacy for U.S. attorney general, the head of our Justice Department.
His confirmation hearings were Jan. 10-11, where he faced intense scrutiny over some of the stances he has taken throughout his public life.
We, in view of Sessions’ record as Alabama’s attorney general and his time spent representing Alabama in D.C., do not believe Sessions should be confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general.
Upon assuming control of the Justice Department, the next attorney general will have the unique ability to reverse many of the policies set forth during the past eight years. They will be able to partly chart the course for whatever America they desire.
Is Sessions’ America the one to which we should aspire?
With respect to criminal justice and civil rights, we don’t think so.
Sessions’ record on criminal justice isn’t wholly bad, considering his support for reducing the deficit in sentencing for crack and cocaine offenses, but on balance, it’s not good enough to warrant giving him the position of the nation’s top prosecutor.
Sessions spreads the myth that crime in America has gotten out of control (it’s actually been decreasing for over a decade) and uses this false premise to argue against criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing incarcerations.
In fact, when a bipartisan effort to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act surfaced, a bill designed to reduce some prison sentences for lower-level drug users while retaining mandatory minimums for violent crimes, Sessions planted himself firmly against it.
Due to his obstinacy, GOP leaders decided to shelve the bill for 2017 rather than have their party divided.
If confirmed, Attorney General Sessions would be in an even more powerful position with respect to whether this bill passes during the upcoming year.
As chief legal counsel to the president, Sessions’ personal philosophy could be written over future legislation in a manner unknown to mere senators.
Sessions is known for being a kind man, as is often repeated by his defenders, but kind toward whom?
Being kind to your constituents and fellow legislators is a virtue, by all means, but we need an attorney general who can extend that same kindness toward incarcerated individuals.
Sessions illustrates his view of drug users with his personal truism: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
A man with such a simplistic and calloused view on drug users cannot be allowed to run our federal penitentiaries, especially when nonserious drug offenders currently take too much prison space and tax dollars.
If his own state’s problems with prison overpopulation doesn’t teach him that mass incarceration is an issue, we aren’t confident he’ll realize it anytime soon.
One of the most vital pillars of our society could be further eroded under a Sessions Justice Department: voting rights.
Despite his claim to support it, Sessions has been highly critical of the Voting Rights Act throughout the past. In the 1980s, he called it “an intrusive piece of legislation.”
More worrisome, after the Supreme Court invalidated key provisions of the VRA, which mandate places with histories of discrimination secure approval from the Justice Department when changing election laws, Sessions said it was a good thing for the South.
Additionally, Sessions has supported voting restrictions through the use of voter ID laws on the premise that voter fraud is an urgent problem (it’s actually extremely rare), which disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.
Dr. Wayne Flynt, a professor emeritus in Auburn’s department of history, sums up Sessions with, “His whole life, he has been on the wrong side of every issue.”
Alabama has been given a similar distinction by many people as well.
We can’t risk giving Sessions such an influential position, lest our country be ripe for regressing to a condition similar to Alabama’s.