Media outlets used to call Kentucky Senator Rand Paul “the most interesting man in politics.” Paul, like his father before him, was seen as a libertarian maverick, hawkish on economic issues but reform-minded on social issues like drug use and criminal justice.
On May 10, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo directing federal prosecutors to charge suspects with “the most serious, readily provable offense.”
“By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences,” the memo reads.
In other words: Sessions is escalating the War on Drugs in earnest. By renewing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, low-level drug offenders will be sent to prison for years, and the majority of those punished will be black.
On Monday, Paul wrote a CNN op-ed responding to Sessions’ memo, which he said will “ruin lives”:
The attorney general’s new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system. We should be treating our nation’s drug epidemic for what it is — a public health crisis, not an excuse to send people to prison and turn a mistake into a tragedy.
And make no mistake, the lives of many drug offenders are ruined the day they receive that long sentence the attorney general wants them to have.
If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago.
Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting, primarily because of the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected young black males.
Sessions’ renewed War on Drugs will ruin lives, especially the lives of young black men in America. That much is indisputable. But one tidbit didn’t make it into Paul’s column: Paul voted to confirm Sessions as Attorney General.
Who could have predicted that, once empowered as America’s top law enforcement official, Jeff Sessions would carry out policy that would disproportionately harm black Americans? Lots of people, actually, but they were dismissed as slanderers by Republican senators.
Here’s what Paul had to say about Sessions’ confirmation in January:
I think it’s unfair for people to—and actually very hurtful—for people to say, ‘Oh, you’re a racist.’ When there’s no evidence, in his public career, that he has ever been racially insensitive. So I think it’s just slander and very unfair for people to try to do that to someone. And I think he’s going to do fine in the confirmation process.
Here’s some evidence Senator Paul may have overlooked: In 1985, Sessions accused three African-American civil rights activists of voter fraud. His prime target, Albert Turner, was a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was doing the “day-to-day work of persuading African-Americans in his region...that the Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965, made it safe, finally, to register to vote.”
In 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter opposing Sessions’ nomination to become a federal judge, and cited the Turner case:
Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
Mr. Sessions’ conduct as a U.S. attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.
The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.
Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to read Scott King’s letter into the Congressional record, but was blocked from doing so by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senate Republicans voted to rebuke Warren for “impugning” Sessions’ “motives and conduct.” (Paul voted along with his party to censor Warren from speaking on the Senate floor against Sessions.)
This is why it’s enraging that Paul now (correctly) calls Sessions a threat to black Americans. It’s not like Sessions was one person before his confirmation and another after it. This is who he has been all along.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the same as Trump Cabinet Nominee Jeff Sessions is the same as Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is the same as Trump Campaign Surrogate Jeff Sessions is the same as Alabama State Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the same as U.S. District Attorney Jeff Sessions, who made his name targeting civil rights leaders who registered black Alabamans to vote. Disenfranchising black Americans is Sessions’ main political project, and has been so for decades. There’s a hint right there in his name. Sessions shares his name with his grandfather, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions I, who was named after two fathers of the Confederacy: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, leader of the Confederate army.
For Paul now to ruefully shake his head and protest Sessions acting to reinstate mandatory minimum sentences—which will disproportionately lock up black men and women for harmless drug use—without apologizing for his own complicity in Sessions’s actions is shameful.
“I spoke with Sessions last when he was up for nomination, which makes this move by him even more disappointing now, because it was different from what I was led to believe,” Paul said via phone, indicating that at Sessions’ confirmation, the senator walked away believing the new attorney general would not be pursuing this issue.
This is pathetic. Sessions has spent his whole career telling us who he is. By dismissing the explicitly stated concerns—or, as Paul would say, “just slander”—of King and many other black Americans during Sessions’ confirmation hearing, the Kentucky senator already told us which side he’s on in the War on Drugs and criminal justice reform. One libertarian cred-saving, backpedaling op-ed won’t change that.
Senator Paul: You knew whose lives Sessions intended to ruin before he became Attorney General. You still voted for him. This is on you, bucko.