Despite all the hand-wringing, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was sworn in as Attorney General, as everyone who didn’t have their head completely up their butt knew he would. It’s consistent with Trump’s campaign appeal to fear of crime and terrorism, which, presumably, he market tested to ascertain whether it would play well in the hinterlands. Apparently, it did, unless he was elected despite people in Missouri muttering to themselves, “the man’s a moron, but he’s still better than Hillary.”
But if anything appears to motivate Trump to act, it’s to create the appearance of fulfilling his campaign promises, misguided as many of them were. And that, unsurprisingly, is serving him well, in that it distinguishes him from generations of presidents who said one thing on the campaign trail and another the day after they were sworn in. His policies may be grossly uninformed, his actions may be unserious, but he’s keeping his promises, no matter what havoc they may wreak.
Of the many people who might have been chosen to be the AG, Sessions might seem curious given his history and subsequent rhetoric in the Senate. He’s been an outlier in most respects, the voice of “tough on crime” long after others realized that it didn’t work, it was absurdly simplistic and, most importantly, the sales pitch had run its course. Or maybe it was ripe for reboot?
There are two things that are factually true. Crime is at an historic low* and the risk of harm from terrorism is significantly less than the chances of my being named to the Supreme Court.
The problem is that this inflammatory rhetoric runs contrary to efforts to reform criminal law over the past few years, which included plenty of talk but amounted to almost no actual reform, and gives rise to two concerns: first, that reform is dead. Second, that things that are already bad are going to get worse.
Why did Trump pick Sessions? There weren’t too many viable options out there who would so willingly make such ridiculous statements that fly in the face of facts known by essentially everyone with a modicum of knowledge. Knowledgeable people cringed as Sessions spoke these words. Their heads shook back and forth. This pitch might play well to the feelz of the ignorant,** but this is a problem for those whose job it is to effectuate policy.
Says who? Says those self-proclaimed Leaders of Law Enforcement.
RE: Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123)
Dear Chairman Grassley and Senator Feinstein:
We write to share with you support from several major law enforcement groups for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123). The important reforms contained in this legislation will improve public safety and strengthen our criminal justice system. We hope you will introduce and pass similar legislation this year.
Reducing unnecessary incarceration is vital to the safety of our nation. Today, our oversized prison population costs taxpayers billions annually and draws law enforcement resources away from apprehending violent offenders. For this reason, law enforcement supports the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. This bill would free funding and time for our officers to focus on targeting and preventing violent crime, making our streets safer.
Putting aside the irony of progressive Democrat Dianne Feinstein being nearly as substantively wrong on criminal reform and constitutional law as Jeff Sessions (because it somehow fails to register on the radar that neither party actually supports fact-based reforms that fail to comport with their constituents’ feelz), law enforcement remains supportive of this tepid law that failed to make its way to the floor under the Obama administration, even with Grassley’s support. And nothing prevents state and local reform, except the lack of will.
So Jeff Sessions got the gig of standing before the cameras talking smack that everyone who knows anything about criminal law knows is nonsense. The natives are placated. And not much else.
Having been chastised for not losing my head while all around me have, the reason is pretty plain. The needle never moved much when Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch ran the shop. They and their underlings talked as if it did, but it didn’t. They accomplished almost nothing, and federal law enforcement and prosecutions proceeded as they always did.
It’s likely true that Sessions won’t direct the DoJ Office of Civil Rights to conduct investigations into post hoc (by years, if not decades) unconstitutional conduct by local police, but the only tangible thing that’s come of it is the murder of trees. What it failed to accomplish is the prevention of the murdering of human beings. More rhetoric. No change.
Sessions will take the helm of a department with more than 113,000 people, most of whom will be the same folks as held their jobs under the prior administration. They’ll wake up, do their jobs, just as they did a month ago, a year ago, and the media will report the horror of it all as if it all changed under Sessions.*** Except it’s untrue.
Will Jeff Sessions matter? Will his rhetoric do anything other than make the people who have to deal with law enforcement and criminal law cringe? It could happen. Never underestimate the possibility that things can get worse. But in determining what impact he has on criminal law, keep a firm grasp on how things were before this appointment of this “tough on crime” shill. Things were really bad, and they hadn’t gotten much better under the now-beloved prior administration, that failed to keep its promises.
*Because lawyers are, ahem, occasionally math challenged, the distinction between the prevalence of crime from the increase in the crime rate. Say ten years ago, you had 10 murders. Last year, you had two murders. The rate over those ten years has dropped 80%. Say this year, you had three murders. The rate increased by 50% from last year.
A 50% increase in murders sounds horrible, but the absolute numbers are historically low (one additional murder could be a trend or could be an aberration. It’s too insignificant to tell) and the the terrible sounding rate increase is just a numbers play of no inherent consequence.
**Yes, it’s not just the SJWs who are locked into their feelz. It’s an affliction that affects people of all stripes.
***In reporting on the rollout of Trump’s travel ban, the media discovered that Customs and Border Protection agents were mean and ruthless, as if this hadn’t been the case all along.