Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the nominee for attorney general, played an instrumental role in killing justice-reform bills and could use Bush-era disenfranchisement policies to shape the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), according to two new analyses released Friday.
The Brennan Center for Justice analyzed Sessions' past statements and actions on criminal justice, including in 2016 personally blocking the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act—which would have reduced prison time for nonviolent crimes and limited the use of solitary confinement on juveniles, among other things—despite a consensus within his own party.
While serving as district attorney from 1981-1993, 40 percent of Sessions' convictions were for drug charges, double the rate of other state prosecutors.
At a time when the Justice Department has acted as a key watchdog of police departments amid racial unrest, Sessions' regressive stances on everything from civil asset forfeiture (he's for it) to recidivism reduction programs (he's against them) threaten to upend the progress the agency has made, the Brennan Center warns.
"Sessions appears to subscribe to outdated ideas about criminal justice policy that conservatives, progressives, and law enforcement leaders agree do not help reduce crime," said Ames C. Grawert, counsel in the Brennan Center's Justice Program. "His views are at odds with Republican leadership, and Sessions even helped kill a modest criminal justice bill last year. The Senate Judiciary Committee should ask Sessions questions about his record, and how he would act as the nation's top law enforcement officer."
In 2007, under then-President George W. Bush, the DOJ replaced some of its top attorneys with "politically loyal" prosecutors and pushed states to crack down on voting rights laws—an effort that ultimately ended in scandal and ousted Bush's top strategist Karl Rove.
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Any similar moves by Sessions would undoubtedly erode the DOJ's progress, the center said.
Sessions is also included in a laundry list compiled by advocacy group Public Citizen of Trump appointees who would enter office with potential conflicts of interest. The group also warned this week that he would be soft on corporate crime.
While nearly all of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet nominees have faced strong backlash from progressive organizations and Democratic lawmakers, Sessions is particularly controversial. Senior members of the NAACP staged a sit-in at Sessions' office last week, leading to the arrest of the group's president Cornell Brooks, and numerous congress members have already indicated they will vote against him.
That includes Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who released a statement Friday confirming his stance.
"The U.S. Attorney General's job is to enforce laws that protect the rights of every American," Brown said. "I have serious concerns that Senator Sessions' record on civil rights is at direct odds with the task of promoting justice and equality for all, and I cannot support his nomination."
"Now, more than ever, we need leaders who can bring Americans together to improve police-community relations, ensure that all Americans have access to the ballot, and reform our criminal justice system," Brown said.