The Corner

Politics & Policy

Sessions Enforces the Law

David Shapiro’s smear of Jeff Sessions in a Chicago Tribune op-ed, suggesting that the attorney  general is a racist, is consistent with other failed partisan efforts to distort and delegitimize the former senator’s record on race and law enforcement. Apparently, Shapiro missed Sessions’s confirmation hearing in which the same smears were attempted only to be refuted one by one by witnesses — mostly black — who actually know the facts and the man.

Shapiro asserts Sessions’s directive to staff on criminal sentencing related to drug crimes is “the latest in a series of attempts by the Attorney General to tear down protections for people of color.” Mr. Shapiro seems to have forgotten that during the height of the crack epidemic ravaging the black community in the ’80s, it was Congressman Charlie Rangel and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who voted for the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (“ADAA”), which established the 100-1 sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine. Were Rangel and other members of Congress racist?

Attorney General Sessions wasn’t in the Senate at the time the ADAA passed, but he was in the Senate in 2010 and co-sponsored the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the crack-to-powder ratio. If Sessions were a racist why reduce the crack-to-powder ratio, let alone co-sponsor the Fair Sentencing Act?

The rest of Shapiro’s piece is character assassination of the worst kind. As U.S. attorney for Alabama, Sessions successfully sought the death penalty for Klan members. He defended black voting rights. He hired blacks for prominent positions. As a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I’ve known and worked with Jeff Sessions for years and consider him the most principled and decent person in Washington, a man of the highest integrity.

Shapiro’s complaint seems to be that Attorney General Sessions is actually doing his job — enforcing the law as Congress passed it. In contrast, former attorneys general Holder and Lynch, under the veil of “prosecutorial discretion,” failed to enforce the law. Select immigration and sentencing laws were simply ignored, virtually wholesale. That’s not the role of the attorney general, whether his name is Holder or Sessions. Such a sweeping use of prosecutorial discretion effectively nullifies or rewrites federal law. If drug laws need to be changed, Congress needs to change them. Holder’s and Lynch’s actions were a plain derogation, if not usurpation, of legislative authority. That Attorney General Sessions is being criticized for restoring both the rule of law and the Justice Department to their proper roles is an indication of how debased respect for the rule of law has become.

Shapiro suggests blacks are disproportionately harmed by enforcement of drug-sentencing laws, but it’s other blacks who are disproportionately harmed by drug crimes. I live in inner-city Cleveland where the possession, sale, and trafficking of drugs aren’t victimless crimes. Nothing esoteric here. Neighborhoods decay, people sink into addiction, families are ripped apart, children are neglected, turf wars break out, and innocent people are destroyed. Clearly, there are good reasons why our current drug laws should be revised, but it takes a certain . . . mentality . . . to assert that those who enforce drug laws as written possess nefarious motives. And with the country in the grip of an opioid crisis that dwarfs the crack epidemic, a crisis that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, uniform enforcement of the law is anything but racist.

Shapiro admits that “there is no hard evidence” of Sessions’s racism, yet nonetheless accuses him of having “a single-minded focus to attack people of color.” Somewhere a Red Queen is smiling.

Jeff Sessions prioritizes the rule of law and the well-being of the victims of crime, not the well being of criminals. On the evidence, Jeff Sessions has “a single-minded focus” to act the way the attorney general of the United States is supposed to act. And Americans — regardless of color — are better off for that.


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