April 4th, 2017

United States Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III thinks that consent degree reached between the Department of Justice and communities across the country are, at the least, inappropriate and possibly unconstitutional.

Thirty years ago Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Strom Thurmond saying that Jeff Sessions was not fit to considered for a federal judgeship. She wrote:

I write to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. my professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.

Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.

In 1986 Sessions was not confirmed to that post, but in 2017 King’s letter was insufficient to prevent the elevation of Sessions to his present post. Perhaps the committee (and the senate) thought that a lot can change in 30 years. We are now beginning to see just how wrong they were.

Jon Swaine and Lois Beckett, reporting in Jeff Sessions orders review of police reforms prompted by high-profile shootings for The Guardian, write:

The US attorney general on Monday ordered a nationwide review of all reform agreements with local police departments, placing a key part of Barack Obama’s legacy on criminal justice in jeopardy.

Jeff Sessions signalled in a memo filed to a federal court that “consent decrees” such as those struck in recent years with troubled departments in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, could be scrapped or scaled down.

“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions said in the memo.

Session’s memo has profound consequences in Northeast Ohio because our largest city, Cleveland, is under one such decree—prompted by the brutal murders of Tamir Rice, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams by uniformed police officers—that has not yet been fully implemented.

Consent decrees are court-enforced lists of reforms that are typically struck when justice department civil rights investigators discover a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional policing by a department. A total of 25 such investigations were opened under the Obama administration.

Sessions has repeatedly expressed unease about such agreements, saying he believes the federal government has too frequently interfered with local policing.

Federal officials are currently enforcing 19 agreements, according to a report released earlier this year. This includes several reached by the Obama administration with cities such as Cleveland; Newark, New Jersey; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The new Sessions memo was filed to court in Maryland in the case of the justice department’s consent decree with police in Baltimore. Attorneys for the justice department asked the court for a 90-day pause so it could “review and assess” the plan.

From where I sit (and from where Mrs. King sat) Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III wants to right the wrongs perpetrated by the beast Lincoln and the radical republicans of the 39th Congress. The ultimate goal would appear to be scrapping (or at least seriously gutting) the 14th Amendment and restoring states’ rights to their proper pedestal.

This must not stand.

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