President Donald Trump has issued executive orders as his chief method of bringing about change. In past administrations, presidents such as Barack Obama used executive orders when they faced strong political opposition in Congress. Trump was elected with a Republican majority in the Senate and the House. Yet, he appears to bask in the applause of supporters in the Oval Office as he holds up each signed order to be photographed. The members of his cabinet who then have the responsibility to carry out the orders are usually next to him at the signings. Since many of his orders concern The Justice Department, The Environmental Protection Agency and The State Department, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson are often at his side.
It is interesting to review the work each has done since being sworn into their important Cabinet positions: United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, E.P.A. Secretary Scott Pruitt and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There are other heavy weight departments like Treasury, Commerce, Education and Transportation, but most of the executive orders were not in those areas.
Jeff Sessions. On February 8, 2017, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions was confirmed as United States Attorney General by a party line vote of 52 to 47. His earlier record of a denied federal judgeship in the l980’s was discussed as part of the divided senate deliberation. Sessions had been a close surrogate of Donald Trump throughout the campaign. Once installed, he reflected Trump’s overall aim to overturn Barack Obama’s initiatives throughout the federal government. In his first speech in February, Sessions said, “ government needed to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness.” Elsewhere, he did admit to questioners that he had not read recent reports on Ferguson or Chicago.
On April 3, 2017, Sessions instructed the Justice Department to review Consent Decrees in more than a dozen cities, including Ferguson, Newark, Chicago and New Orleans. The DOJ also filed a motion for a 90 day postponement of a decree with Baltimore after Freddie Gray died in police custody there. The Consent decrees were created as part of the 1994 crime bill to address situations in which a “pattern or practice of the police violated citizens rights.” A consent decree allows the Justice Department to step in when one of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement departments goes seriously awry. Since 1994, seventy police and sheriff ‘s departments have come under investigation; forty one entered into reform agreements including consent decrees. By April, 2017, police departments in fifteen cities were under federal oversight. In mid-April while meeting with civil rights advocates , Sessions complained that “oversight penalized entire departments for the actions of a few officers.” He said the Justice Department had found no systematic abuse in 24 of its investigations and declined to pursue oversight.
Los Angeles, Baltimore and Chicago all attest to improvement from the Consent decrees. Los Angeles had enacted reforms, and public approval of the police has risen as a result. Chigato’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel said, “We’re on the road to reform and we’re not getting off!” Baltimore’s police commissioner, Kevin Davis, said he was “ disappointed” by Sessions action. He added, the city would benefit from a federal monitor who held “its feet to the fire” on reform.
Border Security. On Tuesday, April 12, Jeff Sessions went to the border in Arizona and declared it a “hellscape, a ground zero” where Americans must “take our stand” against a “tide of evil” flooding up from Mexico. When he reached the part about “the criminal aliens, and the coyotes, and the document forgers” overthrowing our immigration system, the large American flag behind him fell over backwards from its stand! An agent rushed to rescue it and stood holding it for the rest of Sessions speech. A reporter wrote, “Old Glory had heard enough!”
Sessions ordered all 94 U.S. attorney’ offices to designate “border security coordinators”, no matter how far they are from “ground zero” The actual crimes they pursue are usually nonviolent offenses, unauthorized entry, document fraud, and other minor misdeeds Illegal border entry from Mexico has been falling for 20 years. In his Arizona speech, Sessions summed up: “Be forewarned. This is a new era. This is the Trump era!”
Other important targets are the ‘Sanctuary Cities’ who have reacted to Trump’s obsession that millions of Mexican undocumented immigrants voted against him in the 2016 election. Sessions threatens these cities with withholding of DOJ funds and many cities have already raised alternative dollars from local sources to meet that threat.
Harsher charges and penalties for non-violent crimes. In early May, Sessions released guidelines in a memo that were a drastic shift from the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. during the Obama administration. The new direction runs counter to the growing consensus among law enforcement and legal experts in the nation. The current view is that excessive incarceration for minor offenses and increasing prison populations are too costly in tax dollars as well as harmful to families and communities. Sessions has always beem a tough-on-crime advocate. Now he is urging prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible. He has been against reducing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level non-violent drug offenses for years. However, bi-partisan support for this legislation has grown in the Senate. Final factor is that Trump has put Jared Kushner in charge of working on a criminal justice overhaul.
Eric Holder in 2013 took aim at drug sentencing rules. He encouraged prosecutors to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to exercise discretion in charging drug crimes. In cases of nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connection to criminal organizations, He also instructed prosecutors to omit details of drug quantities so as to avoid harsher penalties automatically. Eric Holder called Sessions policy “unwise and ill- informed”. Some within the Republican party also criticized the Sessions memo. Senator Mike Lee of Utah labeled the overhaul of the Justice Department a conservative issue. He wrote on Twitter, “To be tough on crime, we have to be smart on crime.”
Epilogue. Perhaps, Jeff Sessions has become most famous as Attorney General for his comment to Mark Levin on his conservative talk radio show in late April. They were discussing the failure of president Trump’s second attempt at a Travel Ban against Muslims from six nations. It had been blocked by federal Judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii who issued an injunction that was effective worldwide. Sessions remarked, “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of The United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”
Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, wrote on Twitter: “Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity and immigrant experience —including my own. Jeff Sessions’ comments are ignorant and dangerous.” Brian Schatz, the other senator who is also a Democrat, wrote in Twitter: ‘Mr. Attorney General, you voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It’s my home. Have some respect.”
…………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson