After a full Senate vote, the final tally read 52-47 in favor of confirming Jeff Sessions to President Trump’s cabinet, though Democrats fought the appointment until the very end.
Since the day Trump tapped the former Alabama Attorney General for our nation’s top law enforcement position, critics have been vocal in their disapproval of Sessions. Though Sessions vehemently denies such allegations, the new U.S. Attorney General has been accused in the past of discriminating against minorities and having a Draconian stance on drugs, including marijuana.
During the confirmation hearings, allegations of deep-rooted racism and a general uneasiness about one of the GOP’s most conservative members filling arguably the second most powerful position in Washington were abound.
In an unprecedented move, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker became the first active Senator to testify against another sitting Senator.
On Tuesday evening, when Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read a letter the late Coretta Scott King penned chastising the appointment of Sessions to a Federal Judge position in 1986, she was silenced after the Senate Majority Leader invoked a seldom used rule that prohibits Senators from voicing “any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights activist and American hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., diametrically opposed then-President Reagan’s appointment of Sessions to a Federal Judge position. King questioned the appointee’s willingness to separate personal beliefs from the law, which would subsequently hinder his ability to defend the disenfranchised from further injustice.
In King’s letter, she said, “Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge … Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago.”
Detractors of Attorney General Sessions still hold the same doubts Coretta Scott King wrote about over 30 years ago.
Moving forward, AG Sessions will lead the Justice Department and its 113,000 employees on his crusade for “law and order,” a pursuit he and Trump have both promised throughout the Presidential campaign. Sessions has been steadfast in his desire to crack down on illegal immigration, illicit drugs, and weapons trafficking.
What approach will Jeff Sessions take with already-legalized marijuana in many states?
An oft-repeated quote from AG Sessions about the moral fiber of cannabis users has been used throughout his confirmation process. During an April 2016 hearing on the drug epidemic, Sessions railed against marijuana reform while chastising a U.S. Attorney explaining to him that fentanyl overdoses and the overall opioid problem are far more pressing issues. Sessions infamously stated during the hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
During his confirmation hearing, Sessions gave some questionable responses to inquiries about his stance on marijuana reform. Many fear that Jeff Sessions may use his new position as a springboard to reel legalized cannabis back, undoing years of immense progress.
From a January Marijuana.com article on the Attorney General’s marijuana policy views:
The nominee for United States Atty. Gen. was recently grilled by his fellow senators on the Judiciary Committee. Drilling down on his views regarding the federal government and how it might handle marijuana going forward, Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority compiled the senator’s answers:
- “While I am generally familiar with the Cole memorandum, I am not privy to any internal Department of Justice data regarding the effectiveness and value of the policies contained within that memorandum… I will certainly review and evaluate those policies, including the original justifications for the memorandum, as well as any relevant data and how circumstances may have changed or how they may change in the future.”
- “I will not commit to never enforcing Federal law. Whether an arrest and investigation of an individual who may be violating the law is appropriate is a determination made in individual cases based on the sometimes unique circumstances surrounding those cases, as well as the resources available at the time.”
- A recent federal court ruling that a Congressional rider prevents the Justice Department from going after people complying with state medical marijuana laws “is relatively recent, and I am not familiar with how other courts may have interpreted the relevant appropriations language or the Ninth Circuit’s opinion. As an emerging issue, that is one that will need to be closely evaluated in light of all relevant law and facts… I will conduct such a review. Of course, medical marijuana use is a small part of the growing commercial marijuana industry.”
- On “good people don’t smoke marijuana“: “My words have been grossly mischaracterized and taken out of context… I was discussing the value of treating people for using dangerous and illegal drugs like marijuana, and the context in which treatment is successful.”
- “I echo Attorney General Lynch’s comments [on marijuana being illegal], and commit, as she did, to enforcing federal law with respect to marijuana, although the exact balance of enforcement priorities is an ever-changing determination based on the circumstances and the resources available at the time.”
- “I will defer to the American Medical Association and the researchers at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere about the medical effects of marijuana. Without having studied the relevant regulations in depth, I cannot say whether they may need to be eased in order to advance research; but, I will review this.”
For his part, President Trump has stated in the past that he would respect the marijuana laws of individual states. However, Trump hasn’t spoken on the debate since being elected Commander in Chief.
Sessions is of the opinion that if lawmakers do not want to enforce Federal marijuana prohibition according to the Controlled Substances Act, they “should pass a law that changes the rules.”
“It’s not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able,” added Sessions.
Cover Image Courtesy of VOA News