What you heard:
Jeff Sessions was confirmed as US Attorney General in a nearly party-line vote.
What it is:
Jeff Sessions, prior to being chosen as the grand poobah of US law, was a US Senator from Alabama (1997-2017). A lawyer by trade, he served as US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama 1981-1993. In 1986, he was nominated to serve as US District Judge for the same region, but was not confirmed after allegations surfaced that he made racially charged remarks.
The US Attorney General is, as aforementioned, the grand poobah of US law. The AG is in charge of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees law enforcement and administers justice; various agencies are housed in the DOJ, including the FBI and DEA. The AG is also responsible for representing the US government in small matters, like in cases argued in front of the Supreme Court.
Like many votes in increasingly contentious confirmations of Trump’s cabinet members, this was a close one that split along party lines. All Republican Senators voted yes, and all Democratic Senators voted no, with one notable exception: Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
What it means:
It means that US now has an Attorney General who was deemed too racist to be a district judge in 1986. Having not been alive in 1986, I cannot say for sure how racist was too racist back then, but I’ll take an educated stab at it and say you probably had to be pretty damn racist for two white male Republicans to vote against you, including the other Senator from Alabama, who raised concerns about Sessions’ ability to be fair and impartial.
One of the major sources of concern was the fact that “Sessions once described the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” because they, quote, “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” Critics also testified they had once heard Sessions say he admired the Ku Klux Klan.” (New York Times)
On a side note, it also means that Senator Manchin will probably be doing a lot of Republican ass-kissing for the next two years in an effort to win his re-election bid in 2018. This is unfortunate, because he’s going to lose anyways; in an increasingly polarized political landscape, the letter next to your name means a hell of a lot more than anything you’ve ever done for the people you represent (see: Donald Trump). Also, Senator Capito, the other Senator from West Virginia, a Republican, beat her 2014 Democratic opponent 62%-35%. Seems like a pretty insurmountable margin, don’t ya think, Joe?
What could happen:
As we’ve seen in the past few weeks (damn it feels like years though), there are going to be a lot of hyper-conservative, borderline unconstitutional policies coming out of the Trump administration. Sessions will defend these (incl. the Muslim ban) to the utmost, and will also probably be on board to prosecute cities and states for laws the US government doesn’t like – or not prosecute for laws that are pretty blatantly racist or sexist. A few of my favorite (read: most terrifying) scenarios are below.
Immigration. Sessions is on record saying that immigration is a major problem because it takes away jobs from native-born citizens (this is SO WRONG AND FACTUALLY INCORRECT but I have other things to do today so I’m not going to get into it); he also doesn’t seem to like non-white people that much. This is scary because, as AG, he’s in charge of immigration courts. This means he can set guidelines for how immigration law is interpreted and enforced, and most likely means it’ll get tougher to qualify for legal resident status and easier to be deported for virtually no reason. It also means he has the power to review and reverse other judges’ decisions.
Voting Rights. While Sessions did vote to extend the Voting Rights Act in 2006 (this is a shamefully low bar for “decent person”), he has questioned whether parts of it are constitutional. He cheered the Supreme Court case that found that the part of the VRA that required Southern states to get approval when they change voting laws (because of, you know, Jim Crow) was unconstitutional. The Obama administration brought many cases against states on the grounds that their new, unreviewed voting laws – mostly Voter ID laws – were unconstitutional because they were essentially poll taxes (need ID to vote > need $ for ID > need $ to vote). Don’t count on Sessions to challenge state laws that enact discriminatory policies or restrict citizens’ ability to vote.
Sanctuary Cities. This one is a little tougher; there’s not a whole lot of precedent. However, since large liberal cities (what up Seattle) have become the frontlines of resistance, it’s not crazy to think they’ll be punished by the vindictive toddler currently playing POTUS. Sessions will have the ability to take cities and states to court over their policies and to compel them to follow batshit federal legislation. Refuse to turn your police force into immigration agents? See you in court. Loosen restrictions on voting rights for felons? See you in court. Uphold a woman’s legal right to birth control or abortion? See you in court.
Jeff Sessions is basically your distant Deep South relative who may or may not be a member of the Klan and believes women should be seen, not heard. And now he’s in charge of the laws against racial and sexual discrimination? Fox, meet henhouse.