Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In The Hands Of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions

A limited, measured strike against Syria, intended to deter Damascus from condoning illegal chemical warfare attacks against its populace, may have been tactically wise, albeit with limited benefit. However, as a friend of David Frum put it succinctly, "if it were good foreign policy, Trump wouldn't be doing it."

Like President, like appointee, and it can be said: "if it were good criminal justice policy, Sessions wouldn't be doing it."

Once a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Steven H. Cook was hired by the Attorney General and now is a senor official on his task force on crime reduction and public safety. In an article entitled "How Jeff Sessions wants to bring back the war on drugs," Washington Post reporter Sari Harowitz explains

Cook and Sessions have also fought the winds of change on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently tried but failed to pass the first significant bill on criminal justice reform in decades.

The legislation, which had 37 sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and 79 members of the House, would have reduced some of the long mandatory minimum sentences for gun and drug crimes. It also would have given judges more flexibility in drug sentencing and made retroactive the law that reduced the large disparity between sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

The left's eagerness for criminal justice reform should be tempered by knowledge that "the bill, introduced in 2015, had support from outside groups as diverse as the Koch brothers and the NAACP. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) supported it, as well."  With scoundrels like the Koch Brothers and Paul Ryan (the NAACP, which partners with Uber, is in comfortable company), all we would need is the support of Grover Norquist to suspect that support for criminal justice reform on the right is a proxy for prison privatization, eliminating the public sector, and other regressive measures.

And as it happens, Grover Norquist, he who has most brazenly exposed the desire of such conservatives to cut government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub," is on board with "reform."

While the left should be skeptical about so-called reform, a powerful force on the right already is.. Horwitz writes

Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences...

If hard-line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I'm guilty," Cook said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. "I don't think that's hard-line. I think that's exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice."

And if Sessions' Justice Department emphasized violent felons while continuing to prosecute drug kingpins, it would be not only what the American people expect, but should expect.

Alas, there is reason to believe otherwise.  Pounding hyperbole, Cook has claimed "drug trafficking is inherently violent. Drug traffickers are dealing in a heavy cash business."

However, drug trafficking is not inherently violent. It can turn to violence in the presence of guns but is not itself violent, a distinction one of the Justice Department's top officials should be expected to admit. Being forthright, though, is not one of the strengths of someone who said "what we did, beginning in 1985, is put these laws to work. We started filling federal prisons with the worst of the worst. And what happened next is exactly what Congress said they wanted to happen- and that is violent crime began in 1991 to turn around. By 2014, we had cut it in half."

If by "we," he means police officers, judges, video games, lead-reduction efforts, aging, and even abortion, Cook is right. Yet, he is at least sophisticated compared to his boss. In a speech in Richmond,Virginia, Attorney General Sessions contended "psychologically, politically, morally,  we need to say- as Nancy Reagan said- 'Just say no.'"

When Mrs. Reagan uttered that famous simplistic slogan (created by advertising executives), she did so not as a law enforcement officer, sociologist, or criminal justice expert, but as a First Lady. It was apppealing for television ads, bumper stickers, and admonitions to kindergartners.

But Jefferson Beauregard Sessions- medical marijuana skeptic and ardent opponent of marijuana legalization- is the Attorney General of the United States, and we've learned a lot in the past 35 years. Yet, he and one of his top lieutenants seem not to have learned- or won't acknowlege- that most illegal drugs are more dangerous than marijuana and even they are less dangerous than firearms. (Thankfully, the DEA Administrator appearing below is long gone.)

We are likely to learn that, just as the role of Commander-in-Chief is too serious to leave with Donald J. Trump, administration of justice is too serious to have left with Jefferson B. Sessions.

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