With President Donald Trump's attorney general pick William Barr set to begin his first confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, progressive advocacy groups and legal experts are calling on senators to stop Barr from becoming the nation's top law enforcement official due to his long record of "abusing civil rights and liberties," supporting mass incarceration, and attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
"As attorney general, Barr endorsed a draconian approach to law enforcement that helped build the system of mass incarceration we have today."
—Vanita Gupta, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights"William Barr is Brett Kavanaugh all over again: A bigoted nominee hand-picked to give Donald Trump a pass when it comes to the Russia investigation," declared Heidi Hess, co-director of Credo Action, which is circulating a "Reject William Barr" petition that has so far garnered over 100,000 signatures. "Democrats should demand that Barr affirm publicly under oath that he will defend and publicly release the Mueller report and, more importantly, that the president is not above the law."
Formerly the Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, Barr was nominated in December to succeed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump fired just hours after the November midterm elections.
And while Sessions was fiercely opposed by civil rights groups as he carried out Trump's racist agenda during his tenure as head of the Justice Department, Vanita Gupta—president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—argued that Barr's record and extremist views raise the alarming prospect that, if confirmed, he could be "Jeff Sessions 2.0."
"As attorney general, Barr endorsed a draconian approach to law enforcement that helped build the system of mass incarceration we have today, which continues to decimate poor black and brown communities," Gupta wrote in a piece for Cafe on Monday. "Yet, he denied evidence of racial disparities, telling a reporter, 'Our system is fair and does not treat people differently.' It was untrue then and it is still untrue now."
"Barr later backed a 1992 Justice Department report, The Case for More Incarceration, as the prison population in the United States soared," Gupta added. "The report irresponsibly stated, 'We are incarcerating too few criminals, and the public is suffering as a result.' He also co-chaired a commission in the mid-1990s that recommended abolishing parole."
We don't need Jeff Sessions 2.0. At tomorrow’s hearing, senators must interrogate Bill Barr about his commitment to a critical duty of the Justice Department: enforcing federal civil rights laws.
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) January 14, 2019
With this history in mind, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued a statement ahead of Tuesday's hearing imploring senators to probe Barr's past actions and force him to "acknowledge the devastating impact that his policies have had on African Americans and other communities of color."
"Barr's nomination comes following a period that has proven to be devastating when it comes to civil rights enforcement in our country. At every turn, this Justice Department has abandoned enforcement of civil rights laws and reversed course in pending cases."
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights Under Law
"During his earlier tenure at the Justice Department, William Barr was one of the staunchest proponents for mass incarceration, promoting policies that ignited the War on Drugs in our country," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee. "Barr's nomination comes following a period that has proven to be devastating when it comes to civil rights enforcement in our country. At every turn, this Justice Department has abandoned enforcement of civil rights laws and reversed course in pending cases."
On top of highlighting Barr's attacks on the Mueller probe, his anti-civil rights record, and his expansive views of executive power, analysts also examined Barr's views on immigration. In a piece for The Intercept on Tuesday, John Washington argued that "Barr may be worse on immigration than Jeff Sessions."
"A maximalist in his views of executive power—he's in favor of torture, doesn't believe that Congress should restrict a president's power to control independent oversight commissions, and thinks that a president hardly needs to consult anybody to engage in acts of war—if he is confirmed, Barr may be the kind of enabler Trump desires to further skirt Congress and, through emergency decree or executive action, fund a border wall, continue to gut asylum protections, and keep rounding up, detaining, and deporting tens of thousands of migrants," Washington wrote. "None of these actions would be a first for William Barr."