It's What Jeff Sessions Won't Do That Scares Me Most


On Nov. 18, President-elect Donald Trump nominated current Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. A lot has been written about what Sessions could do if confirmed as attorney general, and the prospect is scary — he could formulate the legal strategy to kick immigrants, including kids, out of the country; he could overturn guidance keeping transgender students safe in schools; and he could help select a Supreme Court nominee that makes Justice Clarence Thomas look liberal, to name only a few.

The attorney general leads the Department of Justice and is the nation’s top law enforcement official. But the attorney general is a powerful office not only for what it can do, but for what it can choose not to do. The Department of Justice, which includes the storied Office of Civil Rights and Federal Bureau of Investigation, is charged with protecting our civil rights. But if confirmed, Sessions could drag his feet or even refuse to enforce laws he doesn’t believe in, with serious, lasting consequences.

As a legislative associate at the National Council of Jewish Women who works on civil rights, what keeps me up at night are the things Sessions can choose not to do. Here are just five ways he can impact our lives without ever lifting a finger.

By Not Respecting The Fundamental Right To Vote

A man casts his ballot during a straw vote organized for the US Presidential elections on November 8, 2016 during the US election night event in Abidjan. America's future hung in the balance on November 8, 2016 as millions of eager voters cast ballots to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as their first woman president, or hand power to the billionaire populist Donald Trump.SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Sessions does not believe that voter discrimination based on race is a problem. The Department of Justice is supposed to investigate claims of voter suppression, but if Sessions doesn’t believe those claims are real, then these investigations won’t happen. This year was the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, and efforts to deny people the ballot — particularly targeting people of color — will only strengthen if Sessions becomes attorney general.

By Not Protecting The Right To Worship

Worshipers gather for Friday afternoon prayers in the mosque at the Diyanet Center of America on May 13, 2016 in Lanham, Maryland.OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images

A law passed in 2000 with the ungainly name of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA for short, protects houses of worship from zoning discrimination. Essentially, it means that a city or town cannot use zoning laws to keep religious communities from building places to worship. The Department of Justice has pursued a number of cases under this law, but as attorney general, Sessions could choose not to support current and future investigations.

Sessions has ties to anti-Muslim groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and supported banning Muslim immigrants from entering the United States. If he’s confirmed, it’s not a stretch to think that it could get a lot harder to build a mosque.

By Not Continuing Improvements In Policing

A photo taken on October 26, 2016 shows a police badge during a demonstration in Paris to protest over mounting attacks on officers and to call for reinforcements and more resources, as well as stiffer penalties for offenders. The protests have spread across France since October 17, 2016, with rallies in French cities including Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nancy, Toulon, Nice and Marseille, following an attack on October 8, where a 28-year-old officer suffered serious burns when he was attacked with a petrol bomb on the outskirts of the French capital.LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice has undertaken numerous investigations about racial bias and brutality in law enforcement agencies across the United States. While there are no simple solutions for these complex problems, findings from these investigations are being used to improve policing in communities of color, including Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. As attorney general, Sessions could cancel current investigations and decline to begin new ones.

By Not Making Access To Reproductive Health Care Safe

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: A Planned Parenthood office is seen on November 30, 2015 in New York City. A gunman killed three people November 27, including a police officer, at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Current Attorney General Loretta Lynch has prioritized enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), which protects safe access to reproductive health care facilities. In contrast, as a senator, Sessions voted multiple times against protecting abortion providers from violence, as well as voted to defund Planned Parenthood and advance his broader anti-choice agenda. As attorney general, he could decide not to enforce this important law, leaving these facilities — including their providers, staff, and patients — more vulnerable to harassment or violence.

By Not Defending Recent Gains In Civil Rights

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 18: Activists call on senate to reject Jeff Sessions as Attorney General on November 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for People For The American Way)Leigh Vogel/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice has worked for LGBTQ equality, religious freedom, and racial justice. One of the most dangerous things Sessions could do as attorney general is choose not to defend basic civil rights. During a 2015 hearing, Sen. Sessions said that "there is a perception, not altogether unjustified, that this department's civil rights division goes beyond fair and balanced treatment, but has an agenda" when speaking about the department he could soon lead.

Sometimes what a person chooses not to do can be the scariest thing of all.