Signs of things to come

1/20/2017, 8:56 p.m.
GOP senators, conservative bloggers and legal shills have launched a charm campaign to paint U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama ...
Earl O. Hutchinson

Earl O. Hutchinson

GOP senators, conservative bloggers and legal shills have launched a charm campaign to paint U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as a guy who has been misunderstood.

His racially demeaning quotes supposedly were taken out of context and, as the former attorney general of Alabama, and later as a U.S. attorney, he urged vigorous prosecution of a Klan murderer, backed school desegregation efforts, filed lawsuits against voting rights discrimination and backed the extension of the federal Voting Rights Act in 2006.

But that’s simply PR puffery and window dressing to mask the extreme peril Sen. Sessions poses once in the saddle at the U.S. Justice Department. There are glaring signs that he would not play by the legal and public interest book as the U.S. attorney general.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Sessions, a Republican and Trump nominee for the nation’s top law enforcement job, claimed that he didn’t see any criminal act in Mr. Trump’s boast that he grabbed women in their private parts. This strikes at the heart of whether the Justice Department under Sen. Sessions would deal impartially with vital gender enforcement issues such as support for marriage equality, pay equity for women and domestic violence and sexual assault issues.

Sen. Sessions also didn’t object when Mr. Trump said, if elected, he’d prosecute his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and investigate Black Lives Matter.

Then there’s the question of just what types of crimes Sen. Sessions would prosecute as attorney general. There are an estimated 4,000 federal criminal statutes on the books that could be subject to prosecution. It’s up to the attorney general to decide which crimes to make a priority for prosecution.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her predecessor, former Attorney General Eric Holder, put the department spotlight on immigration rights, voting rights, police abuse, drug and criminal justice system reform and doing away with the use of private prisons for profit. Sen. Sessions chomps to get rid of voting rights enforcement, calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive.”

As for private prisons, under Mr. Holder, the federal Bureau of Prisons issued a memo stating that it would phase out the use of private, for-profit prisons, citing grave problems in safety, security and oversight. During the campaign, Mr. Trump disagreed, calling for even more private prisons and efforts at privatizing government operations.

GEO Group is one of the largest private prison corporations. Four months after Mr. Trump pitched private prisons, the GEO Group saw the pro-privatization handwriting on the wall and hired two former aides of Sen. Sessions to lobby in favor of outsourcing federal corrections to private contractors.

There’s still another sign of the shape of things to come at the Justice Department under Sen. Sessions. In 1997, when he was Alabama’s attorney general, a state judge went after him, calling him and his office an example of perpetrating the “worst case” of prosecutorial misconduct he had seen.

The case that got the judge up in arms was Sen. Sessions’ prosecution of a trucking company for allegedly submitting fraudulent billing and taking kickbacks. Specifically, the charge was that Sen. Sessions’ office failed to turn over evidence, gave false testimony and abused the defendant’s rights. Subsequent rulings and an ethics commission investigation found no wrongdoing on Sen. Sessions’ part. However, there was a taint with the public charge that Sen. Sessions, as the judge noted, was willing to “disregard the lawful duties of the attorney general.”

There are certainly precedents where attorneys general have gone against the prevailing philosophy and wishes of the person who appointed him or her, namely the president. However, Sen Sessions has been in public life for decades. There’s absolutely no hint, based on his Senate voting record, public statements and actions, and ties to hard right wing groups, that once in the Justice Department saddle, he suddenly will be a fair and impartial enforcer of civil rights laws, criminal justice reforms and go after corporate abuses. The evidence is just the opposite.

The writer is a political analyst and author.