Let's Fix This Country
law and order

With Trump Agenda Stalled, the Justice Department Is Where the Action Is

Each day we worriedly turn to the news to follow the president's latest Twitter outburst, but the one we should be watching is Jeff Sessions over at the Justice Department doing the most to execute the administration's agenda but going largely unnoticed. Badgered by President Trump in the hopes that he would quit to be replaced by someone who will subserviently fire Special

Counsel Robert Mueller, the attorney general has nevertheless stayed on his course of reversing what he would call the lenient Obama administration's policies with his own harsh vision of law and order.

Criminal justice practices in the U.S. have led to the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world, exacting a toll on families and ruining lives with years-long sentences when so many are imprisoned for only minor drug offences. A strong movement had been building for reform that had won agreement from both conservatives and liberals in Congress. Legislators were on the verge of cutting mandatory minimum sentences and creating programs to help offenders adjust to life after prison when along came Sessions to flip the movement on its back. He is renowned for a career-long fight against reducing long mandatory sentences.

But there is pronounced disagreement with Sessions' reversion to longer sentencing. Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration is an organization of close to 200 police officials and prosecutors. It includes such heavyweights as Charlie Beck, Los Angeles’s police chief and the city's former chief, William Bratton, who had before that been New York City's police commissioner. The group finds the Sessions policy out of step with the new emphasis on alternatives to prosecution and incarceration. It has issued a report — written by former police chiefs of Nashville, New Orleans and Dallas — that promotes mental health and drug addiction treatment and says, "We need not use arrest, conviction and prison as the default response for every broken law”. Practices such as jailing people before trial on minor offenses and the insurmountable cost of cash bail that keeps them there have been under widespread review in law enforcement circles.

don't be too nice

Trump signaled strongly that his would be a law and order administration, ending the "American carnage" of his dark inauguration address and what Sessions spoke of at his swearing-in as a "dangerous, permanent trend". “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end", said Trump, who would “liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities”.

Trump referred presumably to spikes in homicides in more than two dozen major U.S. cities in the previous year, but disregarded that crime in the U.S. is still at historic lows. He and Sessions needed a dramatic backdrop, however distorted, to justify the reversals they plan. Police across the nation certainly appreciate the two having their back — 84% were for Trump in a survey by Police Magazine — after what for them was the Obama's administration's greater attention to civil rights abuses and police shootings of unarmed civilians. In Trump they have the opposite: such incidents have been met with silence and, speaking at a police event on Long Island (NY), he urged them not to be "too nice" with suspects "like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head... and they’ve just killed somebody...I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”.

Police agencies across the country condemned Trump's comments. The International Association of Chiefs of Police weighed in with

"Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect. This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.”

For his part, Sessions is likely to cancel the consent decrees that Obama's Justice Department pressed upon certain police jurisdictions — Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland and others — to force them to reform. Sessions is evidently untroubled by the abusive practices that led to the decrees such as excessive use of force and racial discrimination. Instead, he calls the decrees "one of the most dangerous…exercises of raw power". He vows that "This Department of Justice will not sign consent decrees that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police rather than handcuffing the criminals".

How fitting therefore for Sessions to announce that President Trump just signed an executive order allowing local police forces to resume deep-discount buying of military equipment — the personnel carriers, armored Humvees, 50-caliber machine guns, etc. — that had been distributed to them and then withheld by Obama after outcries that America began to look like a police state. But now, per Sessions, this is "the life-saving gear that you need to do your job".

Clearly, under Trump, everything Obama must be eradicated. Sessions has reversed Obama's executive order to phase out private prisons. There was more than one reason for the cutback, but one was that changes in criminal justice were reducing the prison population. Sessions evidently intends to increase it again. He says he is re-opening those prisons "to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."

The Obama administration of course said the federal civil rights law that prohibits employment discrimination applies to the LGBT among us. Yet Sessions has even gone to the extent of court filings to say that the law does not apply to them. It therefore probably goes without saying that he supports Trump's transgender military ban.

Sessions did fervidly support getting rid of the senseless and hugely unfair disparities between the penalties for use of crack cocaine and powdered. The long mandatory sentences for the former — the form sold on city streets — so penalized African-Americans as to make reasonable a charge of racism on the part of legislators. Before the difference was reduced (it was not eliminated) all it took was 5 grams of crack to earn a five-year prison sentence, whereas it took 500 grams of powdered cocaine to be sent in for that long.

But for Jeff Sessions, marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin. For him it's not recreational. “Recreational is a bike ride, a swim, going to the beach. Using a drug to put your brain in an altered state is not recreation. That is self-destructive behavior and escapism”, he says. He once supported legislation to make a second marijuana trafficking conviction a capital crime. He has assembled a task force to try to find links between violent crime and marijuana. He wants to do away with medical marijuana, and lobbies the Senate to removed from the federal budget the provision that prohibits the Justice Department from spending to challenge states that permit it. That has senators wielding the Republican credo of states' rights to protect their new multi-billion dollar industry.

democrats go home!

In a 5-4 decision in 2013, the Supreme Court crippled the 1965 Voting Rights Act which had given the Justice Department the right to review for approval any change in voting laws in states, most in the South, that historically had used them to discriminate. Republican-controlled states immediately took advantage of the court's decision, with extreme gerrymandering and restrictive laws meant to make voting difficult for groups likely to be Democratic — blacks, latins and students.

The Obama Justice Department successfully moved against Texas and North Carolina, the latter for "the most restrictive voting laws…since the era of Jim Crow", said the federal court, and “these new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision”.

But state oversight won't happen now that Sessions runs Justice. He is in league with the president, who believes he would have won the popular vote had it not been for 3 million illegals voting for Hillary Clinton and has formed a commission to comb through the voting roles of the states to disenfranchise undesirables. (Read "Are We Headed Toward a Permanent Republican Majority?" for a full account).

Sessions has already reversed his department's position in law suits that limit voting. Supported by the Obama administration, the ACLU sued Ohio's secretary of state for removing thousands of voters from its rolls in 2016. A federal court called the action unconstitutional. It now goes to the Supreme Court, but Sessions has flipped his agency's support to favor the state.

He has done the same in Texas, asking a federal court to dismiss the Justice Department's earlier claim that Texas had enacted overly strict voter identification requirements aimed to discriminate against minority voters.

We can count on Session's department to at the very least stay on the sidelines as Republican states enact still more laws — 46 new bills in 21 states according to the Brennan Center for Justice — to disenfranchise Americans in our so-called democracy.

keeping America white

When in the Senate, Sessions was its most fervent opponent of legislation to fix the immigration problem. He fell in with with Steve Bannon, read Breitbart daily for what he said was its "cutting edge information. Together with Stephen Miller, now in the White House but at the time one of Sessions' aides, the trio spent "an enormous amount of time" to devise strategy" to defeat a bipartisan bill in 2015 that held out hope for providing some of the undocumented a path to citizenship. Close to the vote, thousands of children began pouring across the border, fleeing from the carnage in Central America. Breitbart made that its big story and was instrumental in defeating the bill . Now attorney general, Sessions is in strong support of the travel ban blocking entry of people from six Muslim countries.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) is under the United States Department of Homeland Security but as the president's chief law enforcer, Sessions has inserted himself into the conflict against sanctuary cities. The Trump government threatens to withhold federal funds from cities that refuse to check the immigration status of people and to detain those who may be in the country illegally for transfer to ICE. Cities balk because they will lose the cooperation of immigrant communities, who fear that deportation could result from their coming forward with information and evidence to help police fight crime cases.

Despite statistics that say the immigrant population commits less crime per capita than the native population, Sessions thinks shutting down sanctuaries accounts for a decline in violent crime. He went to Miami to deliver a congratulatory speech for that city's renouncing its sanctuary policy. In it he blamed Chicago’s sanctuary policies for an increase in violent crimes, a nonsensical claim for a city known for the horrific death toll at the hands of gangs in black districts. That falsehood drew four Pinocchios from the Washington Post fact-checkers.

Stemming illegal immigration has long been a subject of concern, but in 2013 Sessions came up with a proposal to limit legal immigration. Donald Trump has accommodated, announcing his intention to cut immigration in half, as well as change to skill-based criteria.

press pressure

Acceding to the president wanting ways to quiet media reporting of the Russia probe, Sessions has tripled leak investigations. But leaks generally arise from civil servants enraged by reversals of what had become long established policy. Thus was a document leaked from Sessions%the president, who believes he would have won the popular vote had it not been for 3 million illegals voting for Hillary Clinton and has formed a commission to comb through the voting roles of the states to disenfranchise undesirables. (Read "Are We Headed Toward a Permanent Republican Majority?" for a full account).

Sessions has already reversed his department's position in law suits that limit voting. Supported by the Obama administration, the ACLU sued Ohio's secretary of state for removing thousands of voters from its rolls in 2016. A federal court called the action unconstitutional. It now goes to the Supreme Court, but Sessions has flipped his agency's support to favor the state.

He has done the same in Texas, asking a federal court to dismiss the Justice Department's earlier claim that Texas had enacted overly strict voter identification requirements aimed to discriminate against minority voters.

We can count on Session's department to at the very least stay on the sidelines as Republican states enact still more laws — 46 new bills in 21 states according to the Brennan Center for Justice — to disenfranchise Americans in our so-called democracy.

keeping America white

When in the Senate, Sessions was its most fervent opponent of legislation to fix the immigration problem. He fell in with with Steve Bannon, read Breitbart daily for what he said was its "cutting edge information. Together with Stephen Miller, now in the White House but at the time one of Sessions' aides, the trio spent "an enormous amount of time" to devise strategy" to defeat a bipartisan bill in 2015 that held out hope for providing some of the undocumented a path to citizenship. Close to the vote, thousands of children began pouring across the border, fleeing from the carnage in Central America. Breitbart made that its big story and was instrumental in defeating the bill . Now attorney general, Sessions is in strong support of the travel ban blocking entry of people from six Muslim countries.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) is under the United States Department of Homeland Security but as the president's chief law enforcer, Sessions has inserted himself into the conflict against sanctuary cities. The Trump government threatens to withhold federal funds from cities that refuse to check the immigration status of people and to detain those who may be in the country illegally for transfer to ICE. Cities balk because they will lose the cooperation of immigrant communities, who fear that deportation could result from their coming forward with information and evidence to help police fight crime cases.

Despite statistics that say the immigrant population commits less crime per capita than the native population, Sessions thinks shutting down sanctuaries accounts for a decline in violent crime. He went to Miami to deliver a congratulatory speech for that city's renouncing its sanctuary policy. In it he blamed Chicago’s sanctuary policies for an increase in violent crimes, a nonsensical claim for a city known for the horrific death toll at the hands of gangs in black districts. That falsehood drew four Pinocchios from the Washington Post fact-chec

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