Jeff Sessions Rescinds Another Obama Administration Justice Department Policy

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It is apparent that one of the Trump administration’s overarching goals has to been to undo or rescind anything former President Obama established during his eight-year term. Back in June on an episode of “Meet The Press,” Chuck Todd asked the question of whether Trump’s actions are motivated by policy views or an attempt to undermine President Obama’s legacy. Todd was specifically asking this question in terms of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the climate deal.

Now, it seems that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is following in Trump’s footsteps by rescinding an Obama-era Justice Department letter addressed to local courts across the country. According to The Washington Post:

‘Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding an Obama-era Justice Department letter that asked local courts across the country to be wary of slapping poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers, part of a broad rollback of guidance that Sessions believes overreached.’

Sessions’ plan seems to be to “dramatically reshape the Justice Department by undoing many of the reforms imposed by his predecessors and giving the institution a harder edge.” The Post reports:

‘Sessions is revoking 25 previous guidance documents dating back decades and covering topics as diverse as ATF procedures and the Americans With Disabilities Act.’

Sessions issued a statement saying he was ending:

‘the long-standing abuse of issuing rules by simply publishing a letter or posting a web page.’

Sessions said:

‘Congress has provided for a regulatory process in statute, and we are going to follow it. This is good government and prevents confusing the public with improper and wrong advice.’

Sessions also seems to be taking advantage of the fact that everyone is so focused on the Russia investigation they won’t notice the damage he is doing. The Post detailed some of the detrimental things he has already done:

‘In less than a year in office, Sessions has imposed a new charging policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious offenses possible, even when that might trigger stiff mandatory minimum sentences. He has restored the use of private prisons. And he has adjusted the department’s legal stances on issues involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in ways that put him at odds with his most immediate predecessors.’

Sessions gave a speech at the National Lawyers Convention in November where he discussed his recent shift for the Justice Department, saying that he was directing officials to stop issuing guidance documents that try “to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch.” Sessions warned that he would “review and repeal existing guidance documents that violate this common-sense principle.”

According to The Post:

‘By then, the department already had revoked the Obama-era guidance on federal protections for transgender students, and it was clear others were potentially in the crosshairs. Sessions views many of his policy changes as restoring a strict, by-the-book interpretation of federal law. Civil liberties advocates say the changes are misguided and they disenfranchise or otherwise harm poor minorities and LGBT people.’

The Obama administration letter, which was sent in March 2016, detailed seven principles to consider when imposing fines and fees on individuals. The letter said:

‘Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.

‘Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.’

Vanita Gupta, who was one of the authors of the letter during the Obama administration explained that the letter wasn’t meant to create new law, but clarify what the existing law said. Gupta called Sessions’ rescinding the letter “an abdication of the Justice Department’s responsibility” to help local jurisdictions comply with their legal obligations. It is also reinforcing those jurisdictions that are already imposing inappropriate fines and fees.

Gupta said:

‘I think it just takes the pressure off of some jurisdictions that may have been more reluctant to engage in reform.’

Featured image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images