Jeff Sessions

Reminder: Jeff Sessions Is a Drug War Dinosaur and Should Be Nowhere Near Government Power

Sessions has spent his career fighting to maintain draconian drug sentences.


Jeff Sessions, former senator and former U.S. attorney general, announced yesterday that he will run to reclaim his old Alabama Senate seat. That's as good an opportunity as any to remind everyone why Sessions should be nowhere near government power.

As I wrote in a 2017 profile, the Alabama Republican is a drug war dinosaur, a diehard believer in "broken windows" theory with a childishly Manichean view of policing, wandering around in a world that has largely passed him by.

Before Donald Trump canned him, one of Sessions's last acts as attorney general was a memo making it harder for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to enter into so-called "consent decrees" with cities plagued by unconstitutional policing.

Sessions was one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration's use of consent decrees to rein in rotten police departments, saying they "undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness." He was an unwavering subscriber to the "bad apple" explanation for police misconduct, and he outright rejected the possibility that—brace yourself for this, gentle readers—some police departments might incentivize bad policing and shield problem cops from scrutiny.

Sessions admitted he didn't even read the Justice Department's report on unconstitutional policing in Chicago and in Ferguson, Missouri, which is interesting because he also called the reports "pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based."

It was an echo of one of Sessions's first major moves as attorney general: He rolled back a 2013 directive by former Attorney General Eric Holder that instructed U.S. attorneys to avoid charges in certain low-level drug cases that would trigger lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. It is prosecutors' duty to seek the maximum sentences on the books, Sessions argued.

He went on to blame Holder's 2013 "smart on crime" initiative for a national rise in crime in 2015 and 2016, a claim that was absurd on its face. Holder's memo may have led to shorter sentences for only around 500 federal drug offenders each year.

Sessions also rolled back an Obama-era Justice Department guidance on civil asset forfeiture that restricted when federal authorities could "adopt" local cases. Such adoptions are one of the primary ways state and local police get around stricter state laws on civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity even when the owner is not charged with a crime.

There was no criminal justice reform measure modest enough to escape Sessions' ire. He also opposed the FIRST STEP Act, a sentencing reform bill passed late last year with overwhelming Republican support. The act has resulted in the early release of thousands of federal drug offenders who had been serving draconian crack cocaine sentences. Sessions was reportedly among the faction that lobbied Trump, unsuccessfully, to oppose the bill.

"There are still those who would have you believe we should release the criminals early, shorten sentences for serious federal traffickers, and go soft on crime," Sessions said in a speech last year. "That would be bad for the rule of law, it would be bad for public safety, and it would be bad for the communities across America."

Sessions' influence is still being felt. The Washington Post reported today that federal prosecutors have tried to block hundreds of inmates from being released under the FIRST STEP Act's provisions by mangling Congress's intent and arguing that many offenders don't qualify.

As a senator, Sessions was one of the staunchest supporters of mandatory minimum sentences and harsh drug laws—long after many of his GOP colleagues began to question the wisdom of, say, putting a woman with no history of violent crime in federal prison for life for a third drug offense. (That's not a hypothetical. I interviewed a woman who was sentenced to life for trading several bottles of pseudoephedrine to a meth dealer. Her two previous offenses were minor drug crimes that never resulted in prison time. Sessions would prefer that she were still rotting in prison.) 

His preference for harsh sentencing laws is closely tied to his drug war hysteria. Who could forget his claims that using marijuana was "only slightly less awful" than using heroin? Or his erroneous assertion that opioid addiction often starts with marijuana use, despite several studies to the contrary? As attorney general, he rescinded the Obama administration's memo instructing federal prosecutors not to go after low-level marijuana offenders in states that have legalized the drug, and he worked to sabotage medical marijuana research. "Good people don't smoke marijuana," he once declared.

In a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, after listening to speaker after speaker trot out a parade of horror stories about civil asset forfeiture, Sessions declared that 95 percent of forfeiture cases involve people "who have done nothing in their lives but sell dope."

Trump hates Sessions for all the wrong reasons. But if the president torpedoes his Senate ambitions and stops him from gumming up criminal justice reform with his unfounded nonsense, that could certainly be considered a first step toward making America great again.

NEXT: Michael Bloomberg's Centrism Combines the Worst Instincts of the Right and Left

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  1. He should recuse himself from pursuing office. I think once was enough for everyone to get the measure of this Keebler Elf.

  2. So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

    I’ll bet you a fat dollar Jeff Sessions knows that sermon by heart.

    1. I bet betting is a sin.

    2. Satan always pretends to be Godly.

  3. “Reminder: Jeff Sessions Is a Drug War Dinosaur and Should Be Nowhere Near Government Power”

    Are Jeff Sessions’ stale thinking, old-timey bigotry, and prudish authoritarianism readily distinguishable from those of the average Republican these days, especially among southerners?

    1. “especially among southerners” is code for Hillary of Little Rock, correct?

      1. Hillary is no southerner. She is an Illinois native.

    2. Also from the average Reason commenter.

  4. And he looks like Arte Johnson playing a hobbit instead of a German soldier.

  5. “Jeff Sessions Is a Drug War Dinosaur and Should Be Nowhere Near Government Power”

    Has Reason stated this about any democrat candidates ? Nope.

    Just another Reason article to write when they need one.

    1. At Reason, writing political articles TRUMPS writing about principle.

      1. Maybe you should find another magazine that writes about the stuff you are interested in reading instead of coming here and bitching.

        1. Lub it or leeb it amirite?

          1. Just a friendly suggestion.

      1. Goddamit stop with the disillusionment already.

      2. Hey, that one’s from Ciaramella, too!

        1. Biden is a moderate who respects norms, “democratic institutions” and protects billionaires from “market anarchy” and unplanned trade so Reason wants him so close to government power he can grope it and sniff its hair.

          1. oh come on SIV, you can do better than that. I expect better trolling out of you

      1. Ciaramella also criticized Rahm Emmanuel for similar reasons:

        It kinda seems like Ciaramella isn’t concerned about the parties of the police state lovers and is reporting on thugs in both parties.

        1. The Comments section here lately reminds of when that movie Colors came out. The writers were meticulous to make sure that the exact same number of Crips and Bloods get killed in the movie, but nevertheless Crips and Bloods were getting into fights over their perception that their side hadn’t been treated fairly.

          1. Is that Ciaramella related to Eric Ciaramella, who is said to be “the whistlelower” in the Ukraine phone call business? Anyone know?

    2. You tried to think, but failed. How about posting what you really think

      1. What is a “Markett hug,” anyway?

        1. a happy ending

    3. Oh, have you given up on pretending you’re a ridiculous purist anarchist and moved on to general nonsense already?

      I’m disappointed, I thought you’d last longer than that. Here, let’s see if we can’t find your old spark:

      “And here’s Reason endorsing the idea of elections (and the coercive government monopoly that holds them) instead of setting fire to the system. Typical government stooges.”

      Something like that, yeah? Give it a spin for old times’ sake.

  6. “Jeff Sessions Is a Drug War Dinosaur”

    You flatter him, he isn’t that young/evolved.

  7. He’s a piece of shit. He’s the Kamala Harris of the Republican side.

    1. He’s a coprolite.

      1. +1 for scientific accuracy

  8. Is C.J related to Eric Ciaramella?

    1. Spiritually if nothing else.

  9. I do not understand why the best that Alabama Republicans can offer for senator is Jeff Sessions or Roy Moore. This is a state that is expected to be a lock for Republicans, so why can’t they come up with a good candidate. Any Republicans out there from Alabama that can name some better alternatives? Here an idea how about someone younger that retirement age, maybe a woman, may be some military or business experience. Anyone from Alabama and fill that bill? If you do maybe you should run.

    1. I have to agree. I don’t know WTH Team R leadership is thinking down there.

    2. They love and admire him for his life long devotion to white supremacism.

  10. Jeff Sessions needs to die, slowly, and without analgesics, of metastatic bone cancer.

  11. Mr Sessions has numerous things in his past that disqualify (or should disqualify) him for elective office. His record on drug interdiction and punishment is but one of the lesser of his bad actions.
    His long history of working to suppress minority voting rights stands high above his other actions. He was one of the very first to file lawsuits against the Federal Voting Rights Act and continued that fight the rest of his pathetic career. His belief that citizens of color should be denied such a basic citizenship is a disgrace. Of course, his long record of opposition to basic citizenship rights for many minority groups fits right in with his record. Perhaps his only sort of appropriate political action was to recuse himself from investigating DJT.

  12. Really. I mean these people are supposed to be conservatives. Hasn’t anyone ever told them about bowing out gracefully? I mean, George Washington was in political office for eight years. Then he bowed out gracefully. Why do these modern politicos think they should be in office until they die? Do they think they’re that much better than George Washington? They’re not. Not by a long shot.

  13. The “War on Drugs” hasn’t been run by tacticians or strategists. However, it has given birth to one of the USA’s great industries. Following are some of the beneficiaries: police, judges, lawyers, drug treatment centers, private prisons and all the other parasites. From asset seizures to penalties to exorbitant legal fees, there is plenty of campaign cash to go around to all political creatures in both parties. It’s the same in the alcohol industry, just not the stigma. I don’t care if these parasites are making money on these idiots who have no desire to be in control of their own lives.

    1. I hate druggies who don’t want to be in control of their lives. What is wrong with them?

      Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

      Post USA Civil War alcoholism was called “the soldiers disease”

      Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

      People in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers.

  14. Are you related to the so-called “whistleblower” Eric Ciaramella?

    1. The whistleblower doesn’t matter. Everything he said has been corroborated and Mulvaney and Trump have both admitted to it.

  15. Could not agree more. He really is a dinosaur, an anachronism really

  16. Harsh drug laws make sense if you want to punish the afflicted.

    Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

    Post USA Civil War alcoholism was called “the soldiers disease”

    Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

    People in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers.

  17. In the Google News Archive Search page is The Alabama Citizen, the paper that made Sessions and Prohibition, the Crash and The Depression that cost God’s Own Prohibitionists five elections running, beginning with 1932. The 1987 “Just Say No” crash did not stop forcing workers to piss in a cup, and nobody asks if asset forfeiture in 2007 had anything to do with the 2008 crash or the flash crashes afterward. Fanatics don’t care if they kill the whole planet, but wrecking the economy–that’s different. That’s important.

  18. oh brother, another intellectually lightweight article from Reason

  19. Everything you have written about Sessions in here is subjective opinion. You say that Sessions ascribes to broken window theory as if its some sort of debunked logical fallacy. Broken Window Theory is taught to almost any college student who studies criminal justice or law. It is also the criminal justice theory that gave us community based policing which has helped improve communities.

    It is also not Draconian to say that a person should serve out the entirety (or close the entirety) of an imposed sentence of incarceration. If you commit a rape and you are sentenced to 15 years, very few people will say that you should be released before your 15 year sentence is over. That standard should apply consistanly to people who violate all laws not just laws regarding violent behavior. Laws and their punishments are written by legislatures of elected representatives of the People. Thereby those laws and their punishments are reflective of what society believes is fair.

    You may believe that a person receiving a 25 year sentence for possession/distribution of crack cocaine is unfair but the people of the United States through their representatives felt differently. They felt that certain drugs such as rock cocaine, heroin, and Methamphetamine are more harmful to society at large do to the propensity of those drug’s users to engage in other unlawful conduct such as robbery and burglary to fund their addictions.

    You may make the argument that these laws contribute to “Mass Incarceration” while the number of people going to prison has gone up to 2 million since 1985 the rates of crime across the board have gone down. So while tough on crime may not look good on dateline NBC story the results are irrefutable. Jeff Sessions understands this and that why the people of Alabama will undoubtedly elect him to the Seante in 2020 over a democrat or Roy Moore who is running again for some inexplicable reason

    1. Everything you have written about Sessions in here is subjective opinion.

      Hint: All opinion is subjective.

      For example, here’s you stating “fact” that is actually subjective opinion:

      It is also not Draconian to say that a person should serve out the entirety (or close the entirety) of an imposed sentence of incarceration.

      You should go read up on mandatory sentencing.

      Thereby those laws and their punishments are reflective of what society believes is fair.

      Do you understand how law making, and more importantly, law repealing works?

      So while tough on crime may not look good on dateline NBC story the results are irrefutable.

      I refute the results. They are officially refuted.

      1. JCW

        I am fully aware of how mandatory sentencing works, seeing as I work for a prison system. Mandatory Sentences is, once again, a product of laws and the people who make them. Since instead of refuting my claims with actual evidence you simply assume that I “don’t know how out laws are made” let me edify you on how representative democracies work.

        You see JCW, in American society we all have a vision of how we believe the country should be run. Lest we want to run for public office ourselves to enact that vision, we select like minded people who will do our bidding for us in the cambers of legislatures. Our visoions are called “political platforms” the like minded people we select to enact those visions are called “representatives” every 2 years the people come together in a contest and the Representatives are selected in what called an election.

        After the election is over the elected representatives go to the legislature and begin enacting their vision. They do this with the consent of the people who elected them, thereby the vison of the representative is reflective of the vision of the people he represents hence the title Representative. So when a lot of like minded representatives get to together and say “you know what? we would have a law that if a person violates a really serious law, they should have to serve a minimum of x number of years in prison before being allowed to be eligible for parole” if that proposed law is approved by enough representatives who operate with the consent of their constituents and then is signed by the President/Governor who is also elected by the people. that proposed law becomes the law. This entire process is done with the full consent of the people of the Country and the States respectively. So to make the augment that laws are in no way reflective of the collective will of the people through their representatives…is complete and utter bullshit

  20. It’s gonna be hilarious when Trump endorses Doug Jones in order to prevent Sessions from winning the election.

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