Obama AG rips Sessions as being ‘dumb on crime’
Sessions rescinded the Holder policy in a memo late Thursday, instructing federal prosecutors across the country to charge defendants with the most serious crimes possible.
“The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime,” Holder said in a statement obtained by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
“It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”
In the memo, Sessions told federal prosecutors to “pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” that by definition “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums.”
The new marching orders are a drastic shift from those given by Holder, who in 2013 urged federal prosecutors to reserve the harshest charges for violent criminals and the leaders of drug cartels, while applying more leniency to non-violent offenders, like those involved in low-level drug crimes.
Holder in his statement said Justice Department data show that federal law enforcers have prosecuted more high-level drug crimes since the start of his Smart on Crime policy.
“Abandoning this evidence-based progress and turning back the clock to discredited, emotionally motivated, ideological policy also threatens the financial stability of the federal criminal justice system,” he said.
Under Sessions’s policy, Holder said the department would once again find itself spending a third of its budget on incarcerating people.
Joining Holder, Democrats on Capitol Hill wasted no time Friday slamming the new guidelines for resurrecting a “war on drugs” mentality that “doubles down on a policy that … was ineffective and discriminatory,” in the words of Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said the shift to tougher enforcement would tear apart minority communities while ignoring the deeper causes of criminal activity, particularly nonviolent offenses related to drugs.
“In the name of helping communities, this policy destroyed many of them, including the families that live there,” Richmond said in a statement.
In his memo, Sessions did allow for circumstances when “good judgment” may lead prosecutors to believe “a strict application” of his new policies “is not warranted.” In such cases, prosecutors “should carefully consider whether an exception may be justified.” Any deviance from the policies must also be cleared by higher-ups in the Justice Department.
But that flexibility in no way appeased the Democratic critics. Richmond praised the Obama-era policies for “making sure that long and harsh sentences were consistent with the crime.”
“This was fiscally smart and compassionate policy that started to stem the tide of mass incarceration in our country,” he said.
“It is widely known that every $1 we spend on mass incarceration makes the country less safe, but Attorney General Sessions has not learned this lesson and is determined to continue the war on drugs with extremely brutal force.”
There is no love lost between Sessions and the CBC, whose members have long-denounced the new attorney general, a former Republican senator from Alabama, for his track record on issues as diverse as civil rights, immigration reform and criminal justice reform.
The critics are also wary of Sessions because of decades-old allegations that he’d made racially insensitive statements as an Alabama state prosecutor in the 1980s — allegations that prompted a Republican-led Senate committee to reject Sessions’s nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986. Sessions has denied the allegations repeatedly over the years.
Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King Jr. had rebuked Sessions during that confirmation process, saying he had used his powers as a state judge “to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”