Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'Normal' is killing us.

Donald Trump is out of the White House. COVID-19 is fading, at least in wealthier nations. The world, they say, is returning to “normal.” That’s the narrative that the corporate media is selling. But there’s a problem: “normal” is destroying our planet, threatening our democracies, concentrating massive wealth in a tiny elite, and leaving billions of people without access to life-saving vaccines amid a deadly pandemic. Here at Common Dreams, we refuse to accept any of this as “normal.” Common Dreams just launched our Mid-Year Campaign to make sure we have the funding we need to keep the progressive, independent journalism of Common Dreams alive. Whatever you can afford—no amount is too large or too small—please donate today to support our nonprofit, people-powered journalism and help us meet our goal.

Please select a donation method:

For Immediate Release

Press Release

Two New Papers: Jeff Sessions’s Criminal Justice Record, the Danger of Using the Justice Department for Partisan Gain


As Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) prepares for his confirmation hearing to be the next Attorney General, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released two analyses today:

  1. Analysis: Sen. Jeff Sessions’s Record on Criminal Justice – Details the senator’s record on sentencing and drug laws, police oversight, reentry programs, and more. The analysis finds, for example, that Sessions helped kill a Republican-led criminal justice reform bill in 2016, which may be revived this session. This follows a long history of support for harsh policies. As U.S. attorney in Alabama, drug convictions made up 40 percent of Sessions’s convictions, double the rate of other Alabama federal prosecutors.
  2. The Justice Department’s Voter Fraud Scandal: Lessons – Explains how the George W. Bush administration used the Department of Justice for partisan gain and wielded its power to disenfranchise voters, resulting in the worst scandal to hit the DOJ since Watergate. The report offers key lessons and guideposts on what conduct the next Attorney General must promise to avoid.


Criminal Justice

The Brennan Center analyzed Sessions’s past statements, votes, and practices on criminal justice. Our key findings:

  • Sessions opposes efforts to reduce unnecessarily long federal prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, despite a consensus within his own party. In 2016, he personally blocked the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and supported by law enforcement leadership. Republican leaders hope to reintroduce the bill this year. As Attorney General, Sessions could stall current congressional efforts to pass this legislation to recalibrate federal sentencing laws.
  • Drug convictions made up 40 percent of Sessions’s convictions when he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama — double the rate of other Alabama federal prosecutors. Today, state and federal law enforcement officers have begun to focus resources on violent crime, and away from archaic drug war policies. But Sessions continues to oppose any attempts to legalize marijuana and any reduction in drug sentences. As Attorney General, Sessions could direct federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest penalties possible for even low-level drug offenses, a step backward from Republican-supported efforts to modernize criminal justice policy.
  • Unlike many Republican legislators, Sessions supports the use of “civil asset forfeiture,” which allows police to confiscate property from people who may not even be accused of a crime. Sessions could strengthen this practice at the federal level, or vocally oppose any congressional efforts to end it.
  • The Justice Department has brought much-needed oversight to troubled police departments, especially those criticized for excessive use of force on communities of color. Sessions is deeply skeptical of federal involvement in state and local affairs, including policing. As Attorney General, he could end or significantly curtail these investigations. 
  • Most conservatives support reentry programs to help former prisoners better reintegrate into society, keeping them away from repeat crime. It is unclear whether Sessions shares his party’s commitment to these recidivism reduction programs. If he does not support them, Sessions’s Justice Department could end requests to Congress for additional funding, or direct scarce resources away from these programs, potentially driving up the recidivism rate.

“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.”

Voting Rights

After Donald Trump’s extraordinary and unfounded comments about rampant voter fraud, his choice to lead the Justice Department raises serious concerns the agency could be perverted to pursue a partisan political agenda on voting instead of neutral enforcement of national voting laws.

That’s exactly what happened a decade ago, under the George W. Bush administration, when the DOJ was upended by scandal. The Center’s report documents the key elements of the 2007 scandal, including how:

  • The Justice Department’s political leadership fired seven well-respected U.S. attorneys, dismissing some top Republican prosecutors because they had refused to prosecute nonexistent fraud.
  • Senior officials hired career staff members using a political loyalty test, perverted the work of the nonpartisan Voting Section toward partisan ends, and exerted pressure on states and an independent agency to fall in line with an anti-voting rights agenda.
  • The effort backfired badly, touching off a wave of investigations. The scandal forced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign and helped drive George W. Bush’s chief strategist Karl Rove from his job.

To make sure the Justice Department steers clear of scandal and disrepute, the Brennan Center paper calls on Sessions — who has his own troubling past on voting — to promise the American public he will adhere to strict principles expected of Attorneys General if confirmed.

He must avoid enforcement actions driven by politics; hire, assign duties to, and evaluate career staff based on competence, not partisanship; interpret federal voting statutes in ways consistent with their purposes to expand access to voting; and more. It further calls on the U.S. Senate, in its confirmation hearings, to ensure that Sessions will maintain the integrity of the Justice Department and follow the laws and policies that apply to every administration.

“The Justice Department does not work when it is motivated by partisan politics. The country cannot afford another scandal undermining the integrity of the agency in charge of enforcing the federal laws protecting our right to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Given Sessions’s troubling track record on voting, his Senate colleagues have an obligation to secure his commitment to nonpartisan, evidence-based enforcement of our laws.”


Brennan Center for Justice logo

The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan law and policy institute. We strive to uphold the values of democracy. We stand for equal justice and the rule of law. We work to craft and advance reforms that will make American democracy work, for all.

NY Court Suspends Rudy Giuliani From Practicing Law Over Trump Lies

The court pointed to "demonstrably false and misleading" claims of voter fraud made by former President Donald Trump's lawyer.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·

State Court Ruling Called 'Big Step' Toward Holding ExxonMobil Accountable

"By clearing this hurdle, the people of Massachusetts are now one step closer to finally having their rightful day in court, where Exxon will have to answer for its campaign of deception."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·

Progressives Say 30-Day Eviction Moratorium Extension 'Not Enough'

"This only puts more pressure on our country to find a permanent solution to the housing crisis," said Rep. Ro Khanna. "We can't keep kicking the can down the road."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

'Sounds Like Fascism': DeSantis Signs Law to Collect Political Views of Professors

The law bars universities from "shielding" students from "offensive" views, raising questions about retaliation for professors who enforce respectful classroom conduct.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·

EPA Inaction Blamed as US Bees Suffer Second Highest Colony Losses on Record

Beekeepers lost nearly half of their colonies between April 2020 and April 2021, according to the Bee Informed Partnership survey.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·