by Beau Tremitiere, ACS Next Generation Leader and Board Member of the ACS Student Chapter at Northwestern University School of Law
The nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to serve as U.S. Attorney General is deeply troubling and more than one thousand law students from around the country have signed this letter to President-elect Trump in opposition to his nomination. We join more than 1,100 law professors and dozens of constitutional scholars in expressing concern over the Senator’s fitness to serve as our nation’s top lawyer and law enforcement official. Few of us harbored false hope that President-elect Trump would nominate a candidate who shares all our values and priorities, but we endeavored to believe he would nominate someone who is, at the very least, committed to our nation’s founding principles of equality, justice and shared opportunity. After all, our country faces some of the most daunting legal and social challenges that we have encountered in our history and progress will be impossible without an Attorney General willing and able to defend the Constitution and protect the interests of millions of underrepresented citizens and immigrants.
The next Attorney General must be both forward-looking and committed to fixing the unsolved problems of our nation’s checkered past. After decades of misguided policy, there is an emerging socio-political consensus that the “War on Drugs” has been harmful and counterproductive, systematically devastating communities of color and further stigmatizing addiction. Likewise, there is growing recognition of the insidious effects of institutionalized racism and implicit bias in law enforcement, the need for greater accountability and the importance of building trust between community leaders and all actors in the criminal justice system. Wildly disproportionate and racially-biased sentencing schemes for minor, non-violent crimes remain on the books, but the dismantling has finally begun. Among other worrisome economic trends, increasing consolidation in key industries has further entrenched powerful interests, harming small businesses, innovation and consumers alike. While marriage equality is finally the law of the land, the breadth and scope of permissible religious accommodations remain largely unsettled. Legal protections for transgender persons are in flux and in the meantime, they see their basic human rights violated each day. Voting rights for millions of Americans have been stripped away since Shelby County v. Holder, as redistricting, poll closures and voter identification laws threaten to erase the Voting Rights Act’s transformative legacy. These are just a few of the many pressing legal issues that will demand the attention of the next Attorney General on their first day in office.
As an advocate and aggressive enforcer, the Attorney General can stand up for the oppressed, inspire the disillusioned and hold accountable those who believe they are above the law. While the most inspired Attorney General cannot single-handedly cure our nation’s ills, an apathetic Department of Justice, or worse yet, a Department of Justice committed to undermining progress, can set back social, political and legal gains by decades. Nonetheless, Attorneys General from both sides of the aisle—from Tom C. Clark to Robert F. Kennedy to Dick Thornburg to Loretta Lynch—have consistently embraced their sacred duty and served honorably as the nation’s top law enforcement officer and chief lawyer. Based on his three decades in public life, Senator Sessions has proven himself unfit to serve in this most important and revered position.