The Corner

Politics & Policy

Of Course Jeff Sessions Will Defend Transgender Individuals

The New York Times reported yesterday that U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions has personally dispatched a federal hate-crimes lawyer to Iowa to aid in the prosecution of a man charged with murdering a transgender high-school student.

The article’s headline — “Aiding Transgender Case, Sessions Defies His Image on Civil Rights” — and overall tone seem to express some measure of shock at the idea that Sessions does not, in fact, approve of the systematic targeting of transgender individuals.

Of course, the headline is correct, in a sense: Sessions is defying his public image. But it’s a false image, crafted by wily media and political opponents who portray him as a bigot and refuse to acknowledge the reasonableness of his decisions as attorney general.

From the Times piece: “In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.”

This is a faulty comparison, and it pervades the article, which never acknowledges the innumerable and important differences between investigating and punishing the murder of an innocent individual — a potential hate crime — and choosing to relax Obama-era regulations that overstepped the bounds of federalism. To contrast these two policies is completely irresponsible.

“While it is of course good that D.O.J. is aggressively pursuing this case, it would behoove Sessions to connect the dots between his policies that promote discrimination and hate that can result in death,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division under Barack Obama, told the Times.

Gupta would like us to believe that, unless the Justice Department compels every school in the nation to essentially dissolve gender distinctions and open all bathrooms to people of both sexes — in some cases overriding the wishes of students, parents, and teachers — Sessions is in effect allowing, or even contributing to, hate crimes such as last year’s murder in Iowa.

Such a claim is absurd. Sessions has led the Justice Department in rolling back a series of regulatory overreaches by the Obama administration not because he has an irrational animus against transgender or other minority individuals, but because, as a conservative, he believes many of these policies should be determined at the state and local level.

Reducing federal-government control over every aspect of public life is the essence of conservative politics, stemming from the belief that individuals and their communities deserve the freedom to determine their own local policies without the encroachment of an unaccountable bureaucracy. And none of the rules Sessions relaxed have been proven essential in protecting the dignity or human rights of transgender people.

If progressives are unable to see the distinction between workplace hiring rules or bathroom guidelines and prosecuting a man charged with murdering a transgender person, they do a serious disservice to their own cause. And they slander Sessions, who has never once indicated a lack of respect for the dignity of transgender individuals.

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