Trump nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general
It has stoked fears among civil rights activists
The future of criminal justice reform hangs in the balance as the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, was advanced in a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Activists worry that Trump, who preached “law and order” during his campaign and threatened last week to “send in the Feds” to violence-plagued Chicago, would halt former President Barack Obama’s reforms, and institute new policies that could worsen conditions.
“The Republican Party right now is divided between people who recognize now that the criminal justice system is a big failed, unaccountable government bureaucracy that’s wasting money and lives on the one hand,” CNN political commentator Van Jones told CNN. “On the other hand, you have people who want to stick with the same old dumb on crime, lock ‘em up policies that have made things worse, not better. Where Trump comes down is not clear yet.”
Trump is expected to move ahead with an executive action this week addressing local crime-fighting and curbing the sale of drugs in the United States.
Here’s why activists and civil rights groups fear Trump’s White House could turn a deaf ear to racial biases in law enforcement and policing:
Sessions’ record on sentencing reform disputed
Trump’s nomination of Sessions to be the next attorney general has exacerbated concerns that policing and sentencing reforms initiated by Obama would come to an end.
As President, Obama granted 1,715 commutations for non-violent drug offenders – more than the past 12 presidents combined. Of those, 568 of the individuals who received lesser sentences had been sentenced to death.
Sessions slammed Obama’s efforts as a “weakening of some of our most important criminal sentencing policies.”
As a candidate, Trump accused the Obama White House of giving “drug dealers and gang members” a “slap on the wrist” and turning them “loose on the street.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, a strong advocate for criminal justice reform, wrote a letter last week urging leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a second hearing and cancel the vote on the senator’s nomination.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this month Sessions was met by strong opposition from Senate Democrats, most notably New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who became the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow sitting senator at a confirmation hearing for a Cabinet position.
Booker slammed Sessions during the hearing, specifically citing his concern with his colleague’s voting record on “the crisis of mass incarceration.”
“His record indicates that at a time when even the FBI director is speaking out about implicit racial bias in policing and the need to address it; at a time when the last two attorneys general have taken steps to fix our broken criminal justice system … Sen. Sessions would not continue to lead urgently needed change,” Booker said.