It's been a tumultuous first year for the U.S. attorney general, and it's safe to say that Jeff Sessions has changed the Department of Justice like no one else before him. Much like President Donald Trump himself, Sessions has used his office to reinforce dangerous stereotypes, entrench racist legacies and push his far-right Christian worldview.
Sessions' irrational fear of drugs and overzealous love of police have combined to create a Department of Justice eager to fill the populations of state prisons across the country -- especially with people of color and those in poverty.
The White House hasn't been this obsessed with drugs since the Nancy Reagan era of "Just Say No," and it's clear that Sessions is 100 percent on board with throwing anyone in jail for so much as looking at an illegal substance. Sessions' blase answer to the opioid crisis is for people to "just tough it out" in order to avoid any narcotics, figuring that eventually the pain will fade.
I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids. I mean, people need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out a little. That's what Gen. Kelly -you know, he's a Marine – [he] had surgery on his hands, painfulsurgery. [He said,] "I'm not taking any drugs!" It did hurt, though. It did hurt. A lot of people – you can get through these things.
In the black-and-white world that Sessions inhabits, chronic pain doesn't exist, and feelings can be glossed over. Yet ironically, when it comes to medical marijuana, a legal substance that could offer effective pain relief, Sessions remains adamant about turning back the clock.
"I cannot and will not pretend that a duly enacted law of this country -- like the federal ban on marijuana -- does not exist," Sessions recently told a sheriff's conference, adding, "Marijuana is illegal in the United States -- even in Colorado, California, and everywhere else in America."
Now, Sessions' hardline stance is putting him at odds with fellow Republicans, such as Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. His views are also subjecting him to lawsuits -- like a recent case, in which a combat veteran suffering from PTSD demanded that the federal government allow him access to medical marijuana to treat his disorder.
It's difficult to argue that Sessions' problem is explicitly about drugs, however. He seems to have a general disdain for those who struggle in this GOP-dominated "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" world. According to the ACLU, Sessions rescinded a policy that directed courts to avoid jailing individuals who are too poor to pay court fees and fines -- essentially undoing rules against a "debtor's prison" for the poor.
The ACLU of Ohio notes:
In late December, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded crucial guidance that advised courts not to unfairly punish people simply for being poor. While Sessions furthers the criminalization of poverty, Ohio's chief justice is reminding her judges that the people who pass through their courtrooms are not ATMs. On January 29, [Ohio Chief Justice] Maureen O'Connor sent a letter to all Ohio trial judges to ensure they were aware that the law has not changed and 'court cases are not business transactions.' Her thoughtful letter is a stark contrast to Jeff Sessions' abrupt decision to rescind a guidance that had helped judges and court administrators around the country reform court practices to guard against abuses like debtors prisons – the jailing of poor people who cannot afford to pay court fines and fees.
Sessions' push against drug offenses, disdain for the Voting Rights Act, his indifference towards discrimination laws and his rabid support of an "Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement," has created "a year the civil rights movement will never get back," as Kristen Clarke wrote at The Hill.
Whether the movement can survive a second year with Sessions at the helm of the Department of Justice is anyone's guess.