Tag Archives: Jeff (Jim Crow) Sessions

Jeff Sessions Remains the Great White Hope of Trump’s Presidency

Steve Bannon is back at Breitbart News, but the stigma of Breitbart-style white nationalism he brought to the White House lives on inside the Trump administration.

First and foremost, of course, the stigma remains because of the president. Though Trump dismissed Bannon, he isn’t about to turn against Breitbart. In a tweet sent out after Bannon’s departure, Trump wrote: “Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews … maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!”

Trump’s racist and nationalist views are enduring and entrenched. They date back long before the formation of Breitbart News to his alleged discriminatory practices as a young New York City real estate developer in the early 1970s. Those views won’t change, even if Bannon’s hulking figure no longer roams the halls of the West Wing.

And then there are the unhinged Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller, both of whom have strong ties to Breitbart and remain on the payroll as presidential advisers and prominent spokesmen. They have Trump’s ear on matters of national security, terrorism and immigration.

Gorka is a former Breitbart columnist. Miller, although just 31 years old, had amassed an impressive nationalist resume even before joining Trump, working as communications director for Jeff Sessions, then a Republican senator from Alabama before his appointment as Trump’s attorney general. Among his achievements while a Sessions staffer, Miller regularly provided source material to Breitbart, particularly on immigration issues.

Apart from the president, however, no one in the administration embodies the principles of white nationalism more directly or effectively than Sessions. That’s why, despite Trump’s heated and public denunciation of Sessions as being “very weak” for recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of alleged Russian election meddling, the attorney general has kept his job.

Sessions isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He and Trump need and complement each other. Together, they are the glue that keeps the GOP base from shattering. As Sessions told reporters on July 28 during a trip to El Salvador to coordinate efforts to combat international drug gangs, he and Trump have a “harmony of values and beliefs.”

Sessions is also a top Breitbart and Bannon favorite. The close relationship between Sessions, Bannon and Trump is chronicled in a chapter of journalist Josh Green’s new bestseller, “The Devil’s Bargain.” As Green explains, Bannon was the driving force in bringing Trump and Sessions together during the presidential campaign.

According to Right Wing Watch (RWW)—a liberal research project sponsored by People for the American Way that opposed Sessions’ nomination to become attorney general—between 2013 and December 2016, Sessions was interviewed on Breitbart radio programs (which are currently broadcast on the SiriusXM Radio’s Patriot channel) a total of 18 times, including 14 interviews conducted directly by Bannon. In addition, Sessions gave seven print interviews to Breitbart and penned a number of op-eds for the website.

As RWW has reported (including an audio link to the SoundCloud podcast streaming service), during a Feb. 27, 2015, radio interview, the same day Sessions addressed a Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Maryland on immigration reform, he told Bannon:

Let me just stop a minute and say Breitbart has been the absolute bright spot in this whole debate. You get it, your writers get it, every day they find new information that I use repeatedly in debate on the floor of the Senate because it’s highlighting the kind of problems that we have. And nobody else is doing it effectively.

These comments were made well before Trump formally announced his presidential bid in June 2015.

In another radio interview with Bannon, in October 2015, Sessions praised the Immigration Act of 1924, which set strict quotas on immigrants based on their countries of origin and heavily favored immigration from Western Europe and Canada. He decried current laws for flooding the country with “low-skilled” labor from non-English-speaking parts of the world that he said saps government resources and brings down wages for native citizens. He also asserted that immigrants and refugees were bringing crime and terrorism, before moving to a discussion of what Bannon provocatively termed the “Muslim invasion of Europe.”

When Bannon asked Sessions to respond to charges of “nativism” that had been leveled against him, the future attorney general struck a now-familiar nationalist note, replying, “I love America,” before adding that some congressional leaders “think they represent … the whole world.”

Bannon and Sessions continued their nationalist dialogue in subsequent shows. When Bannon’s radio program went weekly on Nov. 4, 2015, Sessions was his first invited guest. The two men slammed the mainstream media as “internationalist” and for being dedicated to “banishing meaningful discussion of issues critical to Republican voters.”

In another November 2015 appearance, Sessions again invoked the 1924 Immigration Act as a model for future policy, prefiguring Trump’s present proposals to revamp immigration law. A month later, Sessions returned to Breitbart to express “cautious” interest in Trump’s infamous call for “a total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the country.”

In early February 2016, as his Breitbart-fueled public profile expanded, Sessions circulated a five-part questionnaire to leading Republican presidential candidates, asking their views on trade and immigration policy, as well as their position on increasing federal prison sentences for drug-related offenders. In mid-February, Breitbart carried Sessions’ announcement that Trump was the only candidate who had answered the questionnaire to his satisfaction. By the end of the month, Sessions became the first member of the Senate to formally endorse Trump.

As the presidential campaign heated up, Sessions continued to appear on Breitbart radio. In a particularly notable June 2016 installment, two months before Bannon officially joined the Trump team, Sessions clearly aligned himself with what Bannon called the “populist, nationalist” movement that had sprung up in opposition to what he called the “nation’s political, financial, and cultural elites.”

Asked if he thought those elites had the “backbone and the belief in the underlying principles of the Judeo-Christian West to actually win this war” against Islam, terror, immigration and globalism, Sessions, by then fully embracing Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again,” replied:

I’m losing great confidence that our elites … do not operate sufficiently in the real world. And it’s a dangerous thing and they are eroding regularly, it seems to me, classical American values that are so critical to our success. We need to elect a president who understands it. That’s a deciding issue in this election. We need to make sure the presidential candidate who is elected understands the threat and is willing to take action to protect the republic.

Since assuming his post as attorney general, Sessions has used his power as the nation’s top law-enforcement official to advance Trump’s regressive white nationalist agenda at almost every conceivable turn.

As I’ve noted in this column before, on immigration Sessions has been a staunch defender of the president’s Muslim travel bans, mass deportation and the border wall, and he has threatened to withhold federal law-enforcement grants from sanctuary cities.

On criminal justice, Session has urged federal prosecutors to press for the harshest available sentences, even in minor drug cases. He supports continued use of private prisons, and he wants to undo or limit consent decrees that call for federal oversight of local police departments to ensure compliance with civil rights laws.

Sessions also has taken steps to reverse the Justice Department’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the department’s support for equal protection of LGBT Americans. Weighing in on affirmative action earlier this month, Sessions announced plans to allocate Justice Department resources to crack down on colleges and universities that he believes may discriminate against white applicants.

In addition, Sessions has boasted that the department under his direction has tripled the number of “leak” investigations (over and above the high levels reached during the Obama administration) aimed at punishing those who disclose “sensitive” government information to the press. For good measure, he’s reviewing, and threatening to expand, the department’s policies on subpoenaing reporters to force them to disclose the sources of leaked material.

Like a true loyalist, Sessions also has adamantly defended the president’s pathetically inadequate response to the recent neo-Nazi and KKK violence in Charlottesville, Va..

So while Bannon may be gone, Sessions and the cause of white nationalism remain entrenched in the Trump presidency. Sessions, in no small sense, is the bridge between the old right that he has long represented and the alt-right movement that helped sweep Trump into power. Trump may choose to humiliate him before the press and in late-night tweets—as he does to many others—but in the end their shared values and interests will keep them together.

By Bill Blum

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Anything Goes When You’re a Cop in America

“There is one criminal justice system for citizens—especially black and brown ones—and another for police in the United States.”

—Redditt Hudson, former St. Louis police officer

President Trump needs to be reminded that no one is above the law, especially the police.

Unfortunately, Trump and Jeff Sessions, head of the Justice Department (much like their predecessors) appear to have few qualms about giving police the green light to kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens in the so-called name of law and order.

Between Trump’s pandering to the police unions and Sessions’ pandering to Trump, this constitutionally illiterate duo has opened the door to a new era of police abuses.

As senior editor Adam Serwer warns in The Atlantic,

“When local governments violate the basic constitutional rights of citizens, Americans are supposed to be able to look to the federal government to protect those rights. Sessions has made clear that when it comes to police abuses, they’re now on their own. This is the principle at the heart of ‘law and order’ rhetoric: The authorities themselves are bound by neither.”

Brace yourselves: things are about to get downright ugly.

By shielding police from charges of grave misconduct while prosecuting otherwise law-abiding Americans for the most trivial “offenses,” the government has created a world in which there are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its gun-toting agents, and another set for you and me.

No matter which way you spin it, “we the people” are always on the losing end of the deal.

If you’re a cop in the American police state, you can now break the law in a myriad of ways without suffering any major, long-term consequences.

Indeed, not only are cops protected from most charges of wrongdoing—whether it’s shooting unarmed citizens (including children and old people), raping and abusing young women, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, or soliciting sex with minors—but even on the rare occasions when they are fired for misconduct, it’s only a matter of time before they get re-hired again.

For example, Oregon police officer Sean Sullivan was forced to resign after being accused of “grooming” a 10-year-old girl for a sexual relationship. A year later, Sullivan was hired on as a police chief in Kansas.

St. Louis police officer Eddie Boyd III was forced to resign after a series of incidents in which he “pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report,” he was quickly re-hired by another Missouri police department.

As The Washington Post reports: “

In the District, police were told to rehire an officer who allegedly forged prosecutors’ signatures on court documents. In Texas, police had to reinstate an officer who was investigated for shooting up the truck driven by his ex-girlfriend’s new man. In Philadelphia, police were compelled to reinstate an officer despite viral video of him striking a woman in the face. In Florida, police were ordered to reinstate an officer fired for fatally shooting an unarmed man.”

Much of the “credit” for shielding these rogue cops goes to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, police contracts that “provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse,” state and federal laws that allow police to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing, and rampant cronyism among government bureaucrats.

Whether it’s at the federal level with President Trump, Congress and the Judiciary, or at the state and local level, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

It’s a pretty sweet deal if you can get it, I suppose: protection from the courts, immunity from wrongdoing, paid leave while you’re under investigation, the assurance that you won’t have to spend a dime of your own money in your defense, the removal of disciplinary charges from your work file, and then the high probability that you will be rehired and returned to the streets.

It’s a chilling prospect, isn’t it?

According to the New York Times, “Some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.”

It’s not safe to be one of the “little people” in the American police state.

Consider what happened in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2006, police officer Jackie Neal was accused of putting his hands inside a woman’s panties, lifting up her shirt and feeling her breasts during a routine traffic stop. He remained on the police force. In 2007, Neal was accused of digitally penetrating another woman. Still, he wasn’t fired or disciplined.

In 2013, Neal—then serving as supervisor of the department’s youth program—was suspended for three days for having sex with a teenage girl participating in the program. As Reuters reports, “Neal never lost a dime in pay or a day off patrol: The union contract allowed him to serve the suspension using vacation days.”

Later that same year, Neal was arrested on charges that he handcuffed a woman in the rear seat of his police vehicle and then raped her. He was eventually fined $5,000 and sentenced to 14 months in prison, with five months off for “work and education.” The taxpayers of San Antonio got saddled with $500,000 to settle the case.

Now here’s the kicker: when the local city council attempted to amend the police union contract to create greater accountability for police misconduct, the police unions flexed their muscles and engaged in such a heated propaganda campaign that the city backed down.

It’s happening all across the country.

This is how perverse justice in America has become.

Our Bill of Rights has been torn to shreds, and the cops have replaced it with their own Bill of Rights: the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), which protects them from being subjected to the kinds of debilitating indignities heaped upon the average citizen.

Incredibly, while our own protections against government abuses continue to be dismantled, a growing number of states are adopting LEOBoRs—written by police unions—which provides police officers accused of a crime with special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.

In other words, the LEOBoR protects police officers from being treated as we are treated during criminal investigations: questioned unmercifully for hours on end, harassed, harangued, browbeaten, denied food, water and bathroom breaks, subjected to hostile interrogations, and left in the dark about our accusers and any charges and evidence against us.

Not only are officers given a 10-day “cooling-off period” during which they cannot be forced to make any statements about the incident, but when they are questioned, it must be “for a reasonable length of time, at a reasonable hour, by only one or two investigators (who must be fellow policemen), and with plenty of breaks for food and water.”

According to investigative journalist Eli Hager, the most common rights afforded police officers accused of wrongdoing are as follows:

+ If a department decides to pursue a complaint against an officer, the department must notify the officer and his union.

+ The officer must be informed of the complainants, and their testimony against him, before he is questioned.

+ During questioning, investigators may not harass, threaten, or promise rewards to the officer, as interrogators not infrequently do to civilian suspects.

+ Bathroom breaks are assured during questioning.

+ In Maryland, the officer may appeal his case to a “hearing board,” whose decision is binding, before a final decision has been made by his superiors about his discipline. The hearing board consists of three of the suspected offender’s fellow officers.

+ In some jurisdictions, the officer may not be disciplined if more than a certain number of days (often 100) have passed since his alleged misconduct, which limits the time for investigation.

+ Even if the officer is suspended, the department must continue to pay salary and benefits, as well as the cost of the officer’s attorney.

+ These LEOBoRs epitomize everything that is wrong with America today.

As Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer, noted,

“We all know – either from personal experience or the experience of someone close to us – that there are officers that will violate citizens’ human rights and civil liberties with impunity and who are comfortable in the knowledge that the system will protect and cover for their actions… These inequities have led, inexorably, to the current national crisis in police-community relations – and the best way forward is to make sure we severely punish officers that violate the rights of the citizens they serve. They must be held accountable for their actions.”

Now once in a while, the system appears to work on the side of justice.

Every so often, police officers engaged in wrongdoing are actually charged for abusing their authority and using excessive force against American citizens.

And occasionally, those officers are even sentenced for their crimes against the citizenry.

Yet in just about every case, it’s still the American taxpayer who foots the bill.

For example, Baltimore taxpayers have paid roughly $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits stemming from police abuses, with an additional $5.8 million going towards legal fees.

New York taxpayers have shelled out almost $1,130 per year per police officer (there are 34,500 officers in the NYPD) to address charges of misconduct. That translates to $38 million every year just to clean up after these so-called public servants.

Over a 10-year-period, Oakland, Calif., taxpayers were made to cough up more than $57 million (curiously enough, the same amount as the city’s deficit back in 2011) in order to settle accounts with alleged victims of police abuse.

Chicago taxpayers were asked to pay out nearly $33 million on one day alone to victims of police misconduct, with one person slated to receive $22.5 million, potentially the largest single amount settled on any one victim. The City has paid more than half a billion dollars to victims over the course of a decade. The Chicago City Council actually had to borrow $100 million just to pay off lawsuits arising over police misconduct in 2013. The city’s payout for 2014 was estimated to be in the same ballpark, especially with cases pending such as the one involving the man who was reportedly sodomized by a police officer’s gun in order to force him to “cooperate.”

Over 78% of the funds paid out by Denver taxpayers over the course of a decade arose as a result of alleged abuse or excessive use of force by the Denver police and sheriff departments.

That’s just a small sampling of the most egregious payouts, but just about every community—large and small—feels the pinch when it comes to compensating victims who have been subjected to deadly or excessive force by police.

The ones who rarely ever feel the pinch are the officers accused or convicted of wrongdoing, “even if they are disciplined or terminated by their department, criminally prosecuted, or even imprisoned.”

In fact, police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be held financially accountable for their actions.

A study published in the NYU Law Review reveals that 99.8% of the monies paid in settlements and judgments in police misconduct cases never come out of the officers’ own pockets, even when state laws require them to be held liable. Moreover, these officers rarely ever have to pay for their own legal defense.

For instance, law professor Joanna C. Schwartz references a case in which three Denver police officers chased and then beat a 16-year-old boy, stomping “on the boy’s back while using a fence for leverage, breaking his ribs and causing him to suffer kidney damage and a lacerated liver.”

The cost to Denver taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $885,000. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Kathryn Johnston, 92 years old, was shot and killed during a SWAT team raid that went awry. Attempting to cover their backs, the officers falsely claimed Johnston’s home was the site of a cocaine sale and went so far as to plant marijuana in the house to support their claim.

The cost to Atlanta taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $4.9 million. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, a police officer was convicted of raping a woman in his police car, in addition to sexually assaulting four other women and girls, physically abusing two additional women, and kidnapping or falsely imprisoning five men and boys.

The cost to the Albuquerque taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $1,000,000. The amount the officer contributed: 0.

Human Rights Watch notes that taxpayers actually pay three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses: “once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police ‘defense’ funds provided by the cities.”

Still, the number of times a police officer is actually held accountable for wrongdoing while on the job is miniscule compared to the number of times cops are allowed to walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist.

Trust me, this is a recipe for disaster.

“In a democratic society,” observed Oakland police chief Sean Whent, “people have a say in how they are policed.”

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, America is a constitutional republic, not a democracy, which means that “we the people” not only have a say in how we are policed—we are the chiefs of police.

By John W. Whitehead/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Justice Dept. to Take On Affirmative Action in College Admissions

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

The document, an internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

The announcement suggests that the project will be run out of the division’s front office, where the Trump administration’s political appointees work, rather than its Educational Opportunities Section, which is run by career civil servants and normally handles work involving schools and universities.

The document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions policies. But the phrasing it uses, “intentional race-based discrimination,” cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campuses.

Supporters and critics of the project said it was clearly targeting admissions programs that can give members of generally disadvantaged groups, like black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores.

The project is another sign that the civil rights division is taking on a conservative tilt under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It follows other changes in Justice Department policy on voting rights, gay rights and police reforms.

Roger Clegg, a former top official in the civil rights division during the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration who is now the president of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, called the project a “welcome” and “long overdue” development as the United States becomes increasingly multiracial.

“The civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination, and it is frequently the case that not only are whites discriminated against now, but frequently Asian-Americans are as well,” he said.

But Kristen Clarke, the president of the liberal Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, criticized the affirmative action project as “misaligned with the division’s longstanding priorities.” She noted that the civil rights division was “created and launched to deal with the unique problem of discrimination faced by our nation’s most oppressed minority groups,” performing work that often no one else has the resources or expertise to do.

“This is deeply disturbing,” she said. “It would be a dog whistle that could invite a lot of chaos and unnecessarily create hysteria among colleges and universities who may fear that the government may come down on them for their efforts to maintain diversity on their campuses.”

The Justice Department declined to provide more details about its plans or to make the acting head of the civil rights division, John Gore, available for an interview.

“The Department of Justice does not discuss personnel matters, so we’ll decline comment,” said Devin O’Malley, a department spokesman.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the educational benefits that flow from having a diverse student body can justify using race as one factor among many in a “holistic” evaluation, while rejecting blunt racial quotas or race-based point systems. But what that permits in actual practice by universities — public ones as well as private ones that receive federal funding — is often murky.

Mr. Clegg said he would expect the project to focus on investigating complaints the civil rights division received about any university admissions programs.

He also suggested that the project would look for stark gaps in test scores and dropout rates among different racial cohorts within student bodies, which he said would be evidence suggesting that admissions offices were putting too great an emphasis on applicants’ race and crossing the line the Supreme Court has drawn.

Some of that data, he added, could be available through the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo

John Gore, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, in 2014.CreditAmerican Constitution Society, via YouTube

The Supreme Court most recently addressed affirmative action admissions policies in a 2016 case, voting 4 to 3 to uphold a race-conscious program at the University of Texas at Austin. But there are several pending lawsuits challenging such practices at other high-profile institutions, including Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The Justice Department has not taken a position in those cases.

The pending start of the affirmative action project — division lawyers who want to work on it must submit their résumés by Aug. 9, the announcement said — joins a series of changes involving civil rights law since Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

In a lawsuit challenging Texas’ strict voter identification law, the Justice Department switched its position, dropping the claim that the law was intentionally discriminatory and later declaring that the law had been fixed. Mr. Sessions has also made clear he is not interested in using consent decrees to impose reforms on troubled police departments and has initiated a sweeping review of existing agreements.

Last week, the Justice Department, without being asked, filed a brief in a private employment discrimination lawsuit. It urged an appeals court not to interpret the ban on sex-based discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as covering sexual orientation. The Obama administration had shied from taking a stand on that question.

Vanita Gupta, who ran the civil rights division in the Obama administration’s second term and is now president of the liberal Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, noted that the briefs in the Texas voter identification and gay-rights cases were signed only by Trump administration political appointees, not career officials, just as the affirmative action project will apparently be run directly by the division’s front office.

“The fact that the position is in the political front office, and not in the career section that enforces antidiscrimination laws for education, suggests that this person will be carrying out an agenda aimed at undermining diversity in higher education without needing to say it,” Ms. Gupta said.

The civil rights division has been a recurring culture-war battleground as it passed between Democratic and Republican administrations.

During the administration of George W. Bush, its overseers violated Civil Service hiring laws, an inspector general found, by filling its career ranks with conservatives who often had scant experience in civil rights law. At the same time, it brought fewer cases alleging systematic discrimination against minorities and more alleging reverse discrimination against whites, like a 2006 lawsuit forcing Southern Illinois University to stop reserving certain fellowship programs for women or members of underrepresented racial groups.

In 2009, the Obama administration vowed to revitalize the agency and hired career officials who brought in many new lawyers with experience working for traditional, liberal-leaning civil-rights organizations.

By Charlie Savage/NYTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective. Sessions wants them back.

As a federal prosecutor and judge, we saw that these policies do not work.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer.

Mandatory federal drug sentencing is unforgiving. A person with one prior drug felony who is charged with possession of 10 grams of LSD, 50 grams of methamphetamine, or 280 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute faces 20 years to life. With two priors — no matter how long ago they occurred — the penalty is life without parole.  As one federal judge has written, these are sentences that “no one — not even the prosecutors themselves — thinks are appropriate.”

They waste human potential. They harm the 5 million children who have or have had a parent in prison — including one in nine black children.  And they wreak economic devastation on poor communities. Studies have found, for example, that formerly incarcerated employees make 10 to 40 percent less money than similar workers with no history of incarceration and that the probability of a family being in poverty increases by almost 40 percent when a father is imprisoned.

Still, in 2003 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed line prosecutors to charge mandatory minimums whenever possible. His policy helped grow the federal prison population from 172,000 to nearly 220,000 over the next 10 years.  This was part of a wider national trend that grew the country’s incarcerated population to 2.2 million, almost 60 percent of them black and Latino.

In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized that this system of mass incarceration was at odds with the Justice Department’s values. He told attorneys to reserve the most severe penalties for the most serious offenses. That meant charging cases in a way that would not trigger mandatory minimums for a specific group of defendants: nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or cartels, no involvement in trafficking to minors, and no significant criminal history.

Holder’s policy was part of an emerging criminal justice reform movement. Since 2009, more than half the states have passed legislation to relax mandatory minimums and restore judicial discretion — including deep-red GeorgiaLouisianaMississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. A new crop of prosecutors is openly questioning the use of long prison terms for minor drug crimes. And a bill to ease federal sentencing has bipartisan support in Congress.

Sessions is bent on reversing this progress.

It would be one thing if Holder’s reform efforts had failed — but they did not. The federal prison population fell for the first time after 40 years of exponential growth.  It is down 14 percent over the past 3½ years. While we need a wider conversation about how we sentence all offenders, including violent offenders, state and federal, this was a start. The 2013 policy sent a message about the need to be smart, not just tough, on crime, and the role of prosecutors in that effort.

Sessions’s assault on the past few years of progress might also make sense if mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses were necessary to combat crime — but they are not. A 2014 study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that defendants released early (based on sentencing changes not related to mandatory minimums) were not more likely to reoffend than prisoners who served their whole sentences. That is, for drug charges, shorter sentences don’t compromise public safety. Indeed, research shows it is the certainty of punishment — not the severity — that deters crime.

Sessions’s fixation on mandatory minimums might also be more palatable if they were cost-effective — but they are not. Federal prison costs have ballooned to $7 billion, more than a quarter of DOJ’s budget, driven by a population that is nearly half drug offenders.  And yet as detailed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council last year, most experts believe that expending public resources to incarcerate these offenders is profoundly inefficient.

Sessions’s defenders will say his policy only requires prosecutors to charge the defendant’s true conduct and apply the statutes Congress enacted. But floor statements from legislators show that Congress intended these mandatory minimums to be used against “kingpins” and “middle-level dealers,” not the minor offenders to whom they have been applied.

One of us served as a federal prosecutor under Holder and had mandatory minimum charges at his disposal. The message from the top down was that prosecutors were to pursue justice. Winning did not mean getting the longest sentence possible. It meant getting the right sentence, one that fit the crime and that respected the interests of victims, defendants, and the public.

The other of us served as a federal judge for 17 years, including during the heyday of the Ashcroft regime. She believes that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.

Under Sessions, prosecutors will be required almost always to charge mandatory minimums, however unjust. They will bind judges’ hands even when the facts cry out for more measured punishment. The result will be great suffering. And there is no good reason for it.

By Nancy Gertner and Chiraag Bains/WashingtonPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist