Guest Opinion: Trump’s brand of attorney general
If he is confirmed as attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions will no doubt provide many opportunities for criticism by those who didn’t vote for Donald Trump. The policies Sessions can be expected to implement at the Justice Department on immigration, voting rights, terrorism and crime will not be agreeable to a lot of Americans. We expect to find many grounds to take issue with him.
But that’s why we have elections: so Americans can choose the leaders and policies they prefer. Trump won the election, and Sessions is exactly the sort of person he could have been expected to place in his Cabinet. So anyone who doesn’t like the appointment should blame the 61 million people who voted for the Republican nominee.
His choice to head the Department of Justice is proof that Trump meant what he said in the campaign, particularly about immigration. It should reassure Trump supporters that the incoming president isn’t going to be co-opted by bland mainstream Republicans. Sessions was the first senator to endorse him during his presidential campaign, and we doubt that anyone ever has called him bland.
Trump has chosen someone who is not only aligned with him on policy but experienced, able and savvy in the ways of Washington. A fourth-term senator from Alabama who has served on the Judiciary Committee, Sessions spent 12 years as the U.S. attorney in Mobile before being elected attorney general of Alabama. He’s unarguably well-prepared for his new assignment.
Not that Sessions will have an easy road to confirmation. His 1986 nomination to the federal bench failed in the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee because of claims that he had made offensive remarks about racial matters, in addition to calling the ACLU and the NAACP “un-American.”
Those matters will be revisited by the current Judiciary Committee in its deliberations, and they could hurt his chances. But they are less likely to prove fatal, because senators have far more information by which to assess him today than they did 30 years ago.
Sessions represents a conservative state and his views are consistently hard-line. He voted against John McCain’s 2005 bill to ban “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of detainees by the military. He is a staunch foe of comprehensive immigration reform that would grant many undocumented foreigners a path to citizenship, which he decries as “amnesty.” He has opposed measures to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
On all these issues, we disagree with Sessions. But then, presidents are entitled to considerable deference in choosing the people they want to carry out their policies — barring some clear evidence of unsuitability. Strongly disagreeing with some of Sessions’ opinions doesn’t meet that test.
It would be hard to find anyone who can better represent and advance President Trump’s policies at the Justice Department than Sessions. Opponents may think that’s reason enough for the Senate to reject him. But all of us ought to remember who won the election.