Jeff Sessions Issues Directive Undercutting LGBT Protections

In issuing the memo, Jeff Sessions is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the US supreme court. Photograph: Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

By Staff of The Guardian – The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on Friday issued a sweeping directive that undercuts federal protections for LGBT people, telling agencies to do as much as possible to accommodate those who claim their religious freedoms are violated. In response, one LGBT rights advocate called the directive a “license to discriminate” and “an attack on the values of freedom and fairness that make this nation great”. Also on Friday, the Trump administration issued a new rule that substantially undermines women’s access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. The Sessions directive, an attempt to deliver on Donald Trump’s pledge to evangelical supporters that he will protect religious liberties, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held. A claim of a violation of religious freedom will now be enough to override many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty called them a legal powder keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government. “This is putting the world on notice: you better take these claims seriously,” Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told the Associated Press. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Georgetown Law Faculty Take A Knee To Protest Jeff Sessions’ Campus Visit

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By Ryan Grenoble for Huffington Post – Professors at the school have vociferously opposed the visit by Sessions. In an open letter published ahead of the event, signed by around a third of the law school’s faculty, professors lambasted it as “hypocritical” and “troubling.” “We, the undersigned, condemn the hypocrisy of Attorney General Sessions speaking about free speech,” the letter reads. “Sessions is a key cabinet member in an administration headed by a President who spent last weekend denouncing athletes engaging in free expression and calling for them to be fired.” “This kind of government chilling of speech is precisely what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is meant to prevent,” the letter continues. “A man who fails to recognize paradigmatic violations of the First Amendment is a poor choice to speak about free speech on campuses.”

Jeff Sessions Is Met With Protest At Georgetown Law

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By Karen Sloan for Law – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions received a frosty reception from some students and faculty at Georgetown University Law Center, where he delivered a talk on free speech Tuesday. In anticipation of his arrival, 30 faculty members on Monday released a letter stating that Sessions was an inappropriate speaker to tackle that subject because he and the Trump administration have repeatedly attacked First Amendment rights. About 130 students claimed on Monday that their tickets to Sessions’ talk were revoked. “It is extraordinarily hypocritical that AG Sessions wants to lecture future attorneys about the importance of free speech on campus while excluding the wider student body from his very own ‘safe space,’” said Daniel Blauser, president of the campus’ chapter of the American Constitution Society. On Tuesday, about 100 protestors gathered in front of the law school, some with duct tape on their mouths and carrying signs critical of Sessions, according to The Washington Post. Sessions’ speech comes as several college campuses have been rocked by free speech controversies. Violent protests or the fear of such have led to the cancellation several planned speeches by conservatives at the University of California, Berkeley. Sessions spoke for about a half hour, referencing recent free speech incidents at UC Berkeley, Virginia Tech, Brown University, and Middlebury College. “Freedom of thought and speech are under attack,” Sessions said. “It is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought—a shelter for fragile egos.”

Vindictive Prosecution: Activist Who Laughed During Sessions Confirmation

Desiree Fairooz (left), seen on May 10, 2017, just days after she was convicted of disorderly and disruptive conduct during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

ByAndrea Germanos for Common Dreams. CODEPINK activist Desiree Fairooz, who was arrested after laughing during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, will face a second trial this fall after she rejected a plea deal on Friday. “I still cannot believe the government refuses to drop this. Vindictive!” she wrote on Twitter, while CODEPINK called it “ridiculous.” She was convicted in May of disorderly and disruptive conduct during the hearing. While Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) argued that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented,” Fairooz, who was in the hearing room, laughed. She held up a sign that read “Support Civil Rights; Stop Sessions” as she was placed under arrest and taken out of the room.

Trump Administration In Crisis Targets Leaks, Threatens Media Freedom

Screen shot of C-SPAN broadcast of Department of Justice briefing by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on "culture of leaking"

By Kevin Gosztola for Shadowproof. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an aggressive supporter of anti-leaks policies, indicated the insider threat task force within the government would refine policies to promote tighter control over government information. Intelligence agencies would refer more cases to the Justice Department, and the Justice Department would investigate more leaks. “This nation must end this culture of leaks. We will investigate and seek to bring criminals to justice. We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country. These cases, to investigate and prosecute, are never easy. But cases will be made, and leakers will be held accountable.” Sessions proclaimed. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted for a leak and jailed by President Obama’s administration, reacted, “These are not national security leaks. These are leaks that are embarrassing to the president personally, but they have nothing to do with national security. It’s not intelligence-related if the president has an argument with the prime minister of Australia and then rudely terminates his phone call.” On one level, this may be viewed as a pledge to sharply escalate a crackdown on leaks. But there is also ample evidence to argue this merely continues a policy wholly embraced by the Obama administration.

As Sessions Promises Drug War Escalation, Listen To Drug War Prisoners

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By Doran Larson for The Conversation – Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a return to a pre-Obama policy of seeking maximum penalties for all drug crimes, including low-level, nonviolent offenses. Criticism from politicians, criminologists, lawyers and others was swift and unambiguous. Based on a discredited belief in a zero-sum relationship between crime and incarceration rates, the thinking behind this policy was called “one-dimensional,” “archaic,” “misguided” and “dumb.” America’s unprecedented attempt to jail its way out of crime long ago passed the point of diminishing returns. Drug trafficking in particular sees a replacement effect: Removing one drug seller simply makes room for another (often accompanied by a violent reshuffling of territories). Excessive incarceration can also damage communities and can actually make an individual more, not less, likely to reoffend. I have been facilitating a writing workshop inside Attica Correctional Facility since 2006. For the past eight years, I have solicited, collected, helped publish and digitally disseminated the first-person writing of incarcerated Americans. Those on the receiving end of the attorney general’s misguided policy will naturally feel his words more deeply than others. The writers among them will be burdened with responsibility to make those feelings known.

In Rebuke To Sessions, Senate Committee OKs Medical Marijuana Protections

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By Bruce Barcott for Leafly – The Senate Appropriations approved an amendment to protect state medical marijuana patients this morning, delivering a setback to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In May, Sessions delivered a letter to Congress specifically requesting that leaders reject that budget amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. The amendment, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), passed in a voice vote with strong Republican support. During the hearing, Leahy said this in support of the amendment: “29 states and the District of Columbia have decided it’s more humane to regulate medical marijuana than to criminalize it. Almost every state—46 right now, and counting—regulate the use of a marijuana derivative that is used to treat epilepsy and other rare medical conditions. I think just about every member on this committee represents a state with patients who would be protected under this amendment. The federal government can’t investigate everything. And shouldn’t. And I don’t want them spending money pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law, whether they’re an epileptic or whatever they might be.”

D.C. Judge Tossed Out Conviction Of Woman Arrested After Laughing During Sessions’ Senate Confirmation Hearing

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By Ryan J. Reilly for The Huffington P0st – WASHINGTON ― A D.C. judge has tossed out a jury’s conviction of a protester who laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing, finding on Friday that the government had improperly argued during the trial that her laughter was enough to merit a guilty verdict. The judge ordered a new trial in the case, setting a court date for Sept. 1. Desiree Fairooz, 61, who was associated with the group Code Pink, had been convicted of disorderly and disruptive conduct and demonstrating inside the Capitol. Fairooz was taken into custody during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January after she laughed when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) claimed Sessions had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” (The Senate rejected Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s over concerns about his views on race.) But Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia tossed out the guilty verdict on Friday because the government had argued that the laugh alone was enough to warrant the verdict. Morin said it was “disconcerting” that the government made the case in closing arguments that the laughter in and of itself was sufficient.

Jeff Sessions Eyes Crackdown On Medical Marijuana, But Federal Policy Remains Unclear

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By Mike Ludwig for Truthout – The Trump administration’s policy toward legal marijuana began to emerge from the fog this week, and it appears that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his underlings remain more interested in orchestrating law enforcement crackdowns than in the current scientific understanding of cannabis. Sessions wants greater freedom to prosecute medical marijuana businesses and patients in states where the drug is a legal medicine. Federal authorities allege that “dangerous drug traffickers” and international “criminal organizations” cultivate marijuana under state medical marijuana laws and sell it in states where the drug is still illegal, according to a May 1 letter from Sessions to members of Congress obtained this week by the Massroots.com and The Washington Post. Sessions’ assistant attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, told members of Congress on Tuesday that the Department of Justice would continue a policy on state-legal marijuana adopted in 2013 by the Obama administration, at least for the near future. That policy, as laid out in 2013 by the famous Cole memo, has allowed recreational and medical marijuana businesses to operate in states where legalization has taken hold, despite ongoing federal prohibition.

More Dangerous Than Trump

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions, San Diego, April 21, 2017

By David Cole for NYR Daily – Tangled in self-inflicted chaos, President Donald Trump has been unable to accomplish much during his first four months in office. His signature executive orders have been stymied by the courts; his legislative efforts have stalled; and now he faces a special counsel investigating him over the Russia affair. But Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is another story. Even amid the scandal of the firing of FBI director James Comey—an action in which Sessions himself had a central part—Sessions has quietly continued the radical remaking of the Justice Department he began when he took the job. On May 20, Sessions completed his first hundred days as attorney general. His record thus far shows a determined effort to dismantle the Justice Department’s protections of civil rights and civil liberties. Reversing course from the Obama Justice Department on virtually every front, he is seeking to return us not just to the pre-Obama era but to the pre-civil-rights era. We should have seen it coming; many of his actions show a clear continuity with his earlier record as a senator and state attorney general. Sessions has been especially focused, and particularly retrograde, on criminal justice. In the Senate, he was to the right of most of his own party…

Jeff Sessions’ Department Of Injustice

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about immigration, in Washington, DC, March 27, 2017. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

By Marjorie Cohn for Truthout – Motivated by his deep-seated biases and those of President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pursuing a draconian agenda on voting rights, immigration, crime, policing, the drug war, federal sentencing and the privatization of prisons. Sessions, now head of the Department of Justice, which is charged with enforcing the Voting Rights Act, once called the act “intrusive.” In 2013, after the Supreme Court issued a decision in Shelby County v. Holder that struck down the section of the act that established a formula for preclearance of jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination, Sessions called it “a good day for the South.” Sessions and Trump tout the existence of what the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School calls a “phantom crime wave.” While this administration scaremongers about high crime rates, in reality, national crime and murder rates are at a near-historic low: 50 percent less than they were at their peak in 1991. Trump’s campaign mantra was “law and order,” a euphemism for tolerating excessive force by police officers, often against people of color.

Jeff Sessions Doubled Down On Immoral, Racist, And Counterproductive War On Drugs

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By Udi Ofer for ACLU – So when most Americans learned that the incarceration rate in the United States began to decrease and that overall crime rates were at historic lows, they cheered the news. Advocates on the right and left called it a good beginning, the dawning of a new era of a smarter and more equitable criminal justice system, while at that same time recognizing that there is much more work to be done. President Donald Trump and his attorney general don’t like this new direction, and they’re doing everything in their power to paint a disturbing and even apocalyptic vision of America — one that is now being used to justify draconian policies that will lead to more Americans in prison. Listening to Attorney General Sessions and to President Trump, you would think that America is living through a crisis of crime. Sessions constantly talks about a crime epidemic, selectively using statistics in a way that is misleading, and sometimes even outright lying. In his swearing in, Attorney General Sessions talked about a “dangerous permanent trend” of increasing crime. Yet that was a lie. There is no evidence of a national crime wave, as right now we’re living at a time when the crime rate is historically low.

Jeff Sessions Orders Harsher Sentences, Taking U.S. Policy Back To 1980s

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By Elisabeth Garber-Paul for Rolling Stone – On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo ordering Justice Department staff to charge criminal suspects – specifically low-level, non-violent drug offenders – with the most severe crime possible and pursue the toughest sentences allowed, rolling back progress made under the Obama administration. The two-page memo, released to the public Friday morning, requires federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against suspects. “It is core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” he wrote. “This policy confirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency.” This rolls back the 2013 directive from former AG Eric Holder, known as the Holder Memo, which advised federal prosecutors to use their discretion when building a case against non-violent drug offenders, as a way to reserve harsh mandatory minimum sentences only for violent or high-level drug crimes. Under the new order, there is still room for prosecutors to decide to pursue less severe charges – but those decisions must be cleared with Sessions’ office, which presumably will be a difficult process.

Jury Convicts Woman Who Laughed At Jeff Sessions During Senate Hearing

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By Ryan J. Reilly for The Huffington Post – WASHINGTON ― A jury convicted a woman on Wednesday who was arrested during a congressional hearing in January after laughing at the claim that now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a record of treating Americans equally. Desiree Fairooz, an activist associated with the organization Code Pink, was found guilty on two counts: one for engaging in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings and a separate count for parading, demonstrating or picketing. Several jurors who spoke with HuffPost after the verdict emphasized that they were focused on Fairooz’s actions after a rookie Capitol Police officer approached Fairooz when she laughed at Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) claim that Sessions had a clear, well-documented and “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law.” A group of jurors spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity. “She did not get convicted for laughing. It was her actions as she was being asked to leave,” the jury foreperson said.

Sessions Orders DOJ To Review Police Reform Agreements

In March 27 Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

By Sari Horwitz, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery for The Washington Post – Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime. In a two-page memo released Monday, Sessions said agreements reached previously between the department’s civil rights division and local police departments — a key legacy of the Obama administration — will be subject to review by his two top deputies, throwing into question whether all of the agreements will stay in place.