What Does Jeff Sessions as Attorney General Mean for Massachusetts?
Next week, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on president-elect Trump's nomination for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama.
While the ACLU does not advocate for or against political nominations, it is a crucial part of our mission to educate the public on threats to our constitutional rights. And Sessions is a threat.
Sessions is well known to folks dedicated to protecting civil rights and civil liberties in Congress and Alabama—they have been combating his trail of racist, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist legislative and policy proposals in Congress for over 20 years. This is not a good resume for someone seeking the position of highest law enforcement official in the country, and whose mission is to protect the rights of all people on American soil. In fact, 30 years ago, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected Sessions as a federal judge based on his professional and personal history of racism.
The ACLU has detailed these problems from a national perspective—but we also have particular cause for concern here in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts boldly legalized adult use of marijuana in November—a great victory for racial justice, social justice, public safety and long-term public health—but a huge thorn in the side of Jeff Sessions.
Sessions is an ardent supporter of the failed war on drugs and has used his time in Congress to wage that war against the American people. He still lives under the delusion that we can arrest our way out of the problems our communities face with drug addiction and all the collateral damage caused by the black-market sale of drugs.
In an October 2015 speech, Sessions spoke about the lack of federal prosecutions of marijuana offenses in the states that have legalized it.
"[T]he administration has declined to enforce federal drug laws regarding marijuana in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. It's still a federal offense to deal in marijuana in the United States, and so even though a state doesn't have that law, the federal government does. They said, well, if you don't enforce it, we won't enforce it. Another relaxation of federal law."
Unlike the Obama Administration, Attorney General Sessions will use his power and federal law to combat state laws. Massachusetts is a national leader in the understanding that legalization is the best way to regulate and control marijuana—and that puts a target on our back.
We must support Massachusetts officials working on implementing the will of the voters with the passage of marijuana legalization.
We cannot allow an ill-suited federal official to give opponents of marijuana reform a reason to ignore the will of the people.
We must demand that our local law enforcement officers and officials not become pawns of the federal government's failed war on drugs.
We must be vigilant and ensure the will of Massachusetts voters is not ignored when it comes to our home state and our social values.
What will Attorney General Sessions mean to Massachusetts?
It means we must unite for the ideals set forth in the U.S. and Massachusetts' constitutions—and be prepared to fight.
Whitney Taylor is political director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.