In a grim development for those fearful about drug policy reform and wider human rights under the Trump administration, the president-elect has picked Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be the next US attorney general.
Sessions, who endorsed Trump early in his campaign, has a record of opposing immigration reform and arguing against immigration of any kind. He has also opposed cuts to mandatory minimum sentences, which see many drug-war prisoners incarcerated for decades, and in 1999 voted to increase penalties for drug-law violations.
A supporter of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, the 69-year-old Republican said of marijuana earlier this year: “This drug is dangerous, it cannot be played with, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about, and [I’m] trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“Jeff Sessions is a drug war dinosaur, which is the last thing the nation needs now,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Those who counted on Donald Trump’s reassurance that marijuana reforms ‘should be a state issue’ will be sorely disappointed.”
What could be the senator’s motivation for holding such positions?
Back in 1986, when Sessions was serving as a prosecutor in Alabama, President Ronald Reagan nominated him to become a federal judge. However, this application was rejected—by a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee and during the racist Reagan era—because of Sessions’ behavior around race.
His ex-colleagues testified that he had described civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, as “un-American.” And Thomas H. Figures, a black federal prosecutor, said that Sessions had called him “boy,” and told him, “be careful what you say to white folks.” Figures also testified that Sessions said that the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot.” (Sessions claimed he was joking.)
Pertinently to the election just past, Sessions was also accused of speaking disparagingly about the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which aimed to prevent the suppression of African American votes. He no doubt won plaudits from his new boss by saying last month, “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault,” in response to Trump’s infamous brags about groping women.
Altogether, it is difficult to imagine a worse indication of how things will play out over the next four years. The only conceivable silver lining is that the appointment of a racist reactionary to attorney general will further motivate everyone opposed to such values to fight against them.