Editor’s Note: William J. Bennett was director of drug control policy, 1989-1990, and US secretary of education, 1985-1988. John P. Walters is the Hudson Institute’s chief operating officer and was director of drug control policy, 2001-2009. The authors have consulted with the Trump transition. The views expressed in this commentary are their own.
Many in the law enforcement community welcome a change in federal leadership, write William Bennett and John Walters
Jeff Sessions will help restore Americans' faith in our criminal justice system, they say
As the Obama era comes to an end, many in the beleaguered law enforcement community are welcoming a change in federal leadership. The Obama legacy will only be settled from the long view of history, but for those currently on the front lines of keeping American communities safe, brighter times are certainly ahead.
The incoming Trump administration has taken seriously the task of assembling the best individuals to push back against the threats facing our country. Foremost among those threats is the pressing need to restore confidence in our institutions of justice and the noble individuals who dutifully enforce our laws and protect our citizenry.
President-elect Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as our nation’s 84th attorney general instantly answers that need. Sessions has served our country for decades (in the military, as US attorney, and as senator) and reformed and defended those institutions that protect us all. He is an outstanding choice for attorney general, and he deserves to be confirmed swiftly.
Upon his confirmation, Sessions will be confronted with three areas that need immediate attention: a rampaging drug epidemic, rising violent crime in American cities and dysfunctional federal nonenforcement of America’s immigration laws. Critically, Sessions understands that in many respects, these crises are different facets of the same national problem; solving any one of them requires focusing on all three simultaneously.
As former federal officials once charged with developing and coordinating our nation’s drug-control efforts, we know that Sessions’ experience, perspective and leadership are sorely needed. Since 2009, drug-induced deaths have increased by 42% with a record 52,404 deaths in the latest-reported year. Tens of thousands of Americans have died, and efforts to halt the carnage by the Obama administration have had little effect. All indicators are that this deadly surge will continue unless a change of strategy is undertaken.
The drug crisis is being largely driven by a deadly deluge of heroin and toxic fentanyl flooding into America. These drugs, manufactured by powerful Mexican drug cartels in an effort to supplant a now-subsiding prescription opioid epidemic, are funneled into America through our porous southern border, too often through the same smuggling networks that convey and profit from illegal immigration.
Securing the border and attacking these smuggling networks in a serious, targeted and multinational way will not only help save American lives by reducing the supply that fuels addiction, overdose deaths and drug-related violence in American communities, it will also dampen illegal immigration by disrupting and breaking up the networks that prey on and profit off those seeking to come to America illegally.
As an effective former prosecutor, Sessions is familiar with the important tools law enforcement needs to break up violent drug gangs and trafficking networks. While demonstrating his willingness to embrace reform where it is needed – such as sponsoring legislation in 2010 that reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine – Sessions has wisely resisted calls coming from some to introduce needless “reforms” that hamstring law enforcement and threaten public safety.
Cartel and gang leaders use violence, intimidation, low-level grunts and money-laundering schemes to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Weakening critical law enforcement tools like civil asset forfeiture (that confiscates these ill-gotten profits) and mandatory minimum sentencing (that can be waived by prosecutors in exchange for informing on those higher up in criminal organizations) benefits criminals at the expense of law-abiding citizens.
As Sessions recently and correctly stated, policy “reforms” such as these “will have long-lasting, harmful consequences, particularly for our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
We are witnessing hard-won, decadeslong gains against crime unravel as overdose deaths soar and illegal immigration threatens the rule of law. After eight difficult years, besieged communities and the unjustly maligned police who protect them deserve an attorney general of depth and experience who will enforce the laws of our nation equitably and impartially and restore Americans’ faith in our criminal justice system.
The right and best man for this critical task at this timorous time is Jeff Sessions, and his confirmation to attorney general cannot come soon enough.