- - Monday, January 29, 2018


During President Obama’s eight years in office the Department of Justice was one of the principal vehicles for “transforming America,” as the former president promised he would during the 2008 campaign. With Attorney General Eric Holder, his willing wingman (Mr. Holder’s term) at his side, Mr. Obama abused the rule of law to an extent that was unprecedented in American history.

So when Jeff Sessions arrived at Main Justice a year ago, not only was his work cut out for him, but he found a veritable smorgasbord of opportunities that needed to be set straight.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his entire Senate tenure, Mr. Sessions had been involved in oversight, jurisdiction, budget and personnel of the Department. To say he hit the ground running would be an understatement, and what he has accomplished in his first year there is nothing short of phenomenal.

Let’s look at a few of those accomplishments:

Both President Trump and Attorney General Sessions consider police to be their most loyal and significant constituency. The Obama ban, for example, on the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments has been reversed, the use of civil asset forfeiture reinstated, nearly $100 million awarded to local departments to hire additional officers.

Also, the Obama policy was to go easy on drug crimes. Now, U.S. Attorneys are instructed to charge serious drug offenders with the most serious crimes possible and to seek long sentences. A new office was established to help combat the opioid epidemic and special task forces assigned to prosecute health care fraud related to prescription drug abuse.

MS-13, the violent gang, has received particularly acute focus, resulting in federal convictions against no fewer than 1,300 gang members. And to the relief of police departments across the country, civil rights cases against entire departments brought for political purposes have been terminated.

During the Obama years, protection of civil rights was a selective effort at best. Left-leaning constituencies were favored, where other groups not high on the Obama list were ignored.

Jeff Sessions changed that when he announced that as attorney general he would “protect the civil rights of all Americans — and not tolerate the targeting of any community in our country.”

True to his word, the Department has commenced civil rights investigations against university admissions offices for discriminating against Asian-Americans, has enhanced its efforts to stop human trafficking and has taken a strong stand favoring protection of religious liberty, even reversing the Obama position on cases in the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, where it argued that a bakery could not be required, contrary to the Constitution, to participate in a wedding ceremony violating the baker’s religious beliefs.

Also reversing Obama policy, Justice is taking a strong position protecting the free speech rights of students on college and university campuses across the country. This is a first at the Justice Department.

Among the Department’s highest profile actions have been its efforts to combat the efforts of sanctuary cities in order to protect the safety of all citizens. Grants to sanctuary cities have been terminated and special awards given to cities terminating the sanctuary status, and perhaps most importantly, the Justice Department has been in the forefront of the public campaign to end the practice.

In another major development, just last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a direct review of a trial court injunction against the president’s travel ban. The Sessions Justice Department, in a bold move, asked the high court to hear the case directly instead of letting it to the Circuit Court of Appeals first on the grounds that several trial courts were holding the Trump administration to unconstitutional standards at the request of the Department.

One of those supporters is Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General Ed Meese. I asked Mr. Meese about what he thought of Mr. Sessions’ tenure to Justice so far.

“During his relatively short time in office,” Mr. Meese told me, “Jeff Sessions has already achieved a remarkable list of accomplishments. He has restored integrity to the Office of Attorney General and reasserted fidelity to the Constitution.”

“Sessions,” said the former attorney general, “has adopted or changed numerous policies and practices of the Department, based on sound principles, common sense, fairness, and the attainment of a just result in investigations and litigation.”

In just one year, the massive Justice Department has one again become a beacon of constitutionality and the rule of law. There is, needless to say, much still to be done. At the pace it has been going, much more will be accomplished in the years to come.

Alfred S. Regnery served in the Reagan Justice Department.

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