WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had a busy first year as one of President Donald Trump’s earliest and most committed supporters, one who now leads one of the most powerful departments in the federal government.
“We inherited from our Founders—and have advanced—an unsurpassed legal heritage, which is the foundation of our freedom, safety, and prosperity,” Sessions declared when he announced opposition to granting DACA amnesty to illegal aliens without Congress. “As the attorney general, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the constitutional order is upheld.”
That has proven to be the theme of Sessions’ first year leading the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of President Trump.
“No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our Republic than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law,” the attorney general added.
DOJ released data and specifics regarding Sessions’ efforts along those lines during the first year of the Trump administration.
Rule of Law
Sessions has taken concrete steps to restore the rule of law.
He has prohibited settlement payments with taxpayer dollars to third-party interest groups that used those resources from the previous administration to fund leftwing agendas. He ended DACA, as well as cost-sharing payments under Obamacare that had already been ruled illegal by a federal court because Congress never appropriated the funds that the Obama administration was funneling to insurance companies.
Regarding executive actions, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13777 on February 24, 2017, to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.”
To implement that executive order, Sessions issued a memorandum within DOJ on November 16, announcing, “Effective immediately, Department components may not issue guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entities outside the Executive Branch ….” All such policy pronouncements must instead go through the public notice-and-comment rulemaking process set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
In addition to discontinuing such guidance documents, Sessions has rescinded several that were put on the books by the previous administration. One of the first to go was the one declaring to employers and schools that Title VII and Title IX’s federal prohibition on sex discrimination covers transgenderism as well.
Shortly before Christmas, Sessions rescinded no fewer than 25 such guidance documents, covering the range from prosecuting cases on the Mexican border to removing restrictions on lawful firearm owners.
The attorney general has also focused on civil rights, and made the constitutional meaning of that term a DOJ priority.
First, Sessions’ focused DOJ on religious liberty. “Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people,” he said when announcing new religious liberty protections, authorized on May 4 by President Trump’s Executive Order 13798.
“It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe,” Sessions continued. “Every American has the right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith.”
Sessions in 2017 issued 20 religious-liberty guidance principles under federal law, ordered DOJ to file a brief at the Supreme Court supporting the Christian wedding cake baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop, and ended Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate against the Little Sisters of the Poor and faith-based employers.
“A national recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights is long overdue,” Sessions said regarding a statement of interest in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, highlighting another new civil rights priority for the administration. “We will enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression.”
Drugs and Violence
Sessions has also reinvigorated DOJ’s focus on traditional law enforcement activities. He reinstated DOJ’s former policy tasking U.S. attorneys with charging defendants with the most serious federal crime that prosecutors believed they could readily prove.
The attorney general is restoring DOJ’s focus on fighting the War on Drugs. “Today, we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” Sessions said when announcing new DOJ resources to combat the threat.
“These trends are shocking and the numbers tell us a lot—but they aren’t just numbers,” he continued. “They represent moms and dads, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. And make no mistake, combatting this poison is a top priority for President Trump and his administration, and you can be sure we are taking action to address it.”
In that vein, Sessions created an Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit, as well as a pilot program to discover doctors and pharmacies that operate as “pill mills” fueling the epidemic. DOJ in 2017 executed the largest ever enforcement action against healthcare fraud, involving 115 doctors in 41 jurisdictions for a total of $1.3 billion in fraudulent billings.
Sessions also tasked federal prosecutors with vigorously enforcing federal laws to remove illegal guns from the streets, a strategy strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, and similar to the NRA’s successful Project Exile. Gun crime prosecutions are up 23 percent under Sessions compared to the Obama administration, in a manner consistent with Second Amendment rights.
Sessions is also targeting violent gang activities, especially MS-13, a brutal gang which is heavily populated by illegal aliens.
“Enforcing [immigration] law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering,” Sessions declared on September 5. “The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, enforce our laws, and, if Congress chooses to make changes to those laws, to do so through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interests of the nation.”
Along those lines, Sessions has ended DOJ grants to sanctuary cities, a decision he continues to defend in federal court. He has also significantly increased the number of immigration judges conducting deportation hearings.
He also ended DACA—which had been initiated by the previous administration through non-regulatory guidance of the type that Sessions has also ended—and continues to defend that decision in federal court.
“While the threats we face are diverse and evolving, terrorist ideologies have one thing in common: their disregard for the dignity of human life and they share an obsession with forcing everyone into their twisted ideology,” the attorney general said on the 2017 anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “We will never yield our freedom, our moral autonomy, or our country.”
Along those lines, Sessions has launched the new National Insider Threat Task Force to identify and stop the excessive leaking of classified material. He is also pressing Congress to reauthorize parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to collect information on threats to national security.
Additionally, Sessions is leading the legal defense of Presidential Proclamation 9645, containing the president’s “extreme vetting” to prevent persons from terror-prone nations who have not been adequately vetted from entering the United States.
No member of President Trump’s cabinet has been more instrumental to the MAGA agenda than Sessions as attorney general. Sessions’ support early in the primaries was instrumental for Donald Trump’s securing the nomination. His focus on immigration and law-and-order issues helped candidate Trump win the White House. And Sessions’ actions as attorney general have faced the stiffest political headwinds from those who oppose the president’s agenda.
No presidential aide is perfect. But 2017 showed that in a capital city full of big egos and competing agendas, Jeff Sessions has been as loyal and hard working a cabinet officer as President Trump is likely to find anywhere.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.