What Will Be the Implications of Jeff Sessions’ Exit?

    The day after the midterm elections saw Republicans cede control of the House of Representatives, President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    In his resignation letter, making clear that stepping down was not his choice, Sessions boasted of his work enforcing “law and order” while leading the Department of Justice. “We targeted the opioid epidemic by prosecuting doctors, pharmacists, and anyone else who contributed to this crisis with new law enforcement tools and determination,” he wrote.


    True to his words, Jeff Sessions has long believed in using the blunt, violent tool of law enforcement to address what even Trump now calls a “health emergency.”

    As attorney general, Sessions ramped up sentencing for drug-law violations, restarted destructive asset forfeiture practices, and threatened crackdowns on marijuana legalization and safer consumption services. He also opposed steps to hold police accountable for killing black people.

    Many in the drug policy reform movement celebrated his departure. “Jeff Sessions Out as Attorney General, Leaving Behind Disastrous Record on Drug Policy,” read a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance.

    “Sessions’ firing is a massive win for criminal justice reform, particularly drug policy. Extremely hard to find anyone these days as committed to drug war insanity,” tweeted author and Filter contributor Maia Szalavitz.

    The marijuana industry also had reason to celebrate the ousting of Sessions, who once said that “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Marijuana stocks soared in the hours after he was fired; one marijuana fund saw a 30 percent leap.

    Sessions’ resignation may present an opportunity for the drug policy reform movement. It would be hard, as Szalavitz said, for Trump to find an attorney general with more antiquated views on drug policy and criminal justice.

    But some Democrats see the firing as a further crisis for democracy. Trump has criticized Sessions for over a year and a half, ever since he recused himself on Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. On the guidance of his advisors, Trump waited until after the midterms to get rid of Sessions. But he clearly was champing at the bit.

    Moments after Sessions submitted his resignation, Trump announced via Twitter the appointment of Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, as acting attorney general. Whitaker—who has echoed some of Trump’s complaints about the special counsel investigation—will now take charge of the inquiry, which has many liberals demanding that Whitaker recuse himself, as Sessions did.

    “Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, in a statement.

    Whitaker will serve as attorney general until Trump appoints a replacement, who will then have to be approved by the Senate.

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