Jeff Sessions has a problem. A big one.
The problem will be rooting out the partisanship and unprofessionalism that has infected the U.S. Justice Department over the last eight years.
Fortunately, Sessions won’t have a learning curve. He is an experienced federal and state prosecutor who knows exactly how a law enforcement agency should be run.
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As an assistant U.S. attorney for two years, Sessions was one of the frontline prosecutors going into court and doing the hard work of trying the cases the Justice Department prosecutes.
Sessions then spent 12 years as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.
That made him the chief lawyer supervising the many DOJ line prosecutors responsible for all of the federal cases in southern Alabama.
He went on to become the attorney general of Alabama, in charge of enforcing Alabama’s state laws as well as defending the state when it was sued — the same job the U.S. attorney general has for the federal government.
Contrary to the unfair and untrue criticisms of his opponents, Sessions had an outstanding record, one that any lawyer or public official would be proud of.
He helped break the back of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. He played a leading role in solving (and prosecuting) the murder of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old African-American whose KKK killer, Henry Francis Hays, got the death penalty.
He also prosecuted Bennie Jack Hays, Henry’s father and the “great titan” of the Alabama KKK, for instigating that murder. The elder Hays died prior to trial.
Sessions was involved in numerous civil rights cases that were filed to protect the voting rights of black Alabamians, including one of the first cases filed by the Justice Department to stop the suppression of black voters, U.S. v. Conecuh County.
Sessions has almost the perfect professional resume to serve as attorney general, from supervisory experience to practical experience in the most important prosecutorial work that the Justice Department does every day: enforcing the criminal, civil rights and civil statutes of the United States.
There is no question that Sessions is going to have a very tough job reversing the downright unethical conduct that has infected parts of the department in recent years — the result of decision-making driven by politics rather than a commitment to uphold the law.
That includes cases such as the successful lawsuit filed by 26 states against President Barack Obama’s immigration amnesty plan, in which a federal judge found that Justice Department lawyers repeatedly lied to him about whether the plan was being implemented.
Or a federal prosecution in New Orleans where the judge concluded that prosecutors had engaged in “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct.”
Sessions understands that the federal government has strictly limited powers, and that state governments are independent sovereigns, not subdivisions of the federal government whose behavior can be dictated by the executive branch.
That will be quite a contrast from the past administration.
As a senator, Sessions also appreciates the oversight role of Congress over agencies such as the Justice Department.
This is very important given the dismissive attitude of Eric Holder, the first attorney general in history to be held in contempt by Congress for withholding documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, the most reckless law-enforcement operation ever conducted by the Justice Department.
Expect Jeff Sessions to ensure that the department is once again run on a professional, ethical, objective and non-political basis — one that respects the Constitution, the rule of law and the best interests of justice.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department official.