WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, released the following statement Wednesday in response to Jeff Sessions’s sixth month as Attorney General of the United States:
“In his first six months as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has made clear his hostility to federal civil rights enforcement by reversing years of progress on critical issues ranging from criminal justice to voting rights. By reigniting the war on drugs, obstructing enforcement of federal voting rights laws, laying the groundwork for an attack on affirmative action, and standing opposed to policing reform efforts, Attorney General Sessions has made clear that he places politics above the rule of law.
“As President Trump’s administration rolls back civil rights efforts across the federal government, the Justice Department leads the charge. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, this Justice Department has turned back the clock on civil rights protections for African Americans, Latinos, women, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities.
The Justice Department’s latest effort to lay the groundwork for attacking race-conscious admissions policies in the higher education context shows that Attorney General Sessions intends to rewrite and obstruct virtually every aspect of the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement agenda. We will continue to use the courts as a vehicle to safeguard the civil rights of Americans and as a forum to check this administration’s unlawful and discriminatory actions.”
As Attorney General, Sessions has executed a systemic agenda to roll back civil rights, including:
- Issuing an all-out assault on affirmative action, assembling a team of attorneys in the front office of the Civil Rights Division, redirecting resources toward investigating so-called ‘intentional race-based discrimination’, and further laying the groundwork to attack policies that help promote racial diversity at colleges and universities;
- Releasing a directive to Justice Department lawyers to review existing and pending consent decrees reached between the Justice Department and local police departments to reform systemic police abuses – a clear sign of Sessions’s plans to scale back the use of DOJ’s enforcement power to protect civil rights, particularly in the area of unconstitutional police conduct;
- Reversing course on critical voting rights matters. Earlier this year, the Justice Department abandoned its position that Texas’s photo ID law was adopted with a discriminatory purpose and this week, the Department took the position that Ohio’s voter purge program, at issue in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, does not violate the National Voter Registration Act, contrary to the position that it has taken for decades;
- Despite crime reaching near historic lows, re-declaring the war on drugs by appointing Steven H. Cook, a former federal prosecutor with a draconian tough-on-crime philosophy, to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies instituted under former attorney generals Eric H. Holder Jr. and Loretta Lynch; helping prepare a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases while pursuing mandatory minimum sentences, straight out of the playbook of the 1980s and ‘90s;
- Issuing illegal bids to withhold public safety grants from so-called sanctuary cities to force local authorities to help federal agents detain and deport people living in the country illegally as part of a push to reduce crime he believes is linked to illegal immigration;
- Issuing a directive reversing previous orders by President Barack Obama’s administration limiting the practice of civil asset forfeiture. This order strengthens the federal government’s power to seize cash and property from Americans without first bringing criminal charges against them;
- Reinstituting the use of private prisons and reversing a directive that had called for the phasing out of these facilities, which are subject to a higher rate of abuse and neglect;
- Defending an executive order that imposes a travel ban on people seeking to enter the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries. The ban encourages profiling on the basis of race and national origin.
“It’s clear the Justice Department has departed from its core mission of protecting the civil rights of all Americans during the first six months of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s tenure. Efforts to obstruct and reverse federal civil rights enforcement make the pending nomination of Eric Dreiband to lead the Civil Rights Division all the more critical. The Senate must carefully evaluate Eric Dreiband’s record to determine whether he will bring a commitment to full and fair enforcement of federal civil rights laws.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee:
The Lawyers’ Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.