Jeff Sessions, one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet picks, is up for a Senate vote on Wednesday to be confirmed as Attorney General.
Sessions’ confirmation process turned into a long, bitter fight that culminated in an all-nighter at the Senate on Tuesday, during which Democrats spoke out against the Alabama senator and highlighted their opposition to his record and views.
Democrats fear that any progress the Obama administration may have made on issues from immigration to criminal justice reform will quickly be reverted by a Sessions-led Justice Department.
Here are some of the key issues at stake:
Sessions has long been viewed as an immigration hardliner, who as a senator consistently led efforts to defeat immigration bills that would provide paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Beyond his desire to crack down on illegal immigration, Sessions has also been an opponent of legal immigration. In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post in 2015, Sessions said that low-wage legal immigrants “work, draw benefits and become voting citizens” and “substitute for higher-paid Americans.” He also argued that the employment of immigrants in high-skilled sectors “perpetuates the myth that there is a shortage of talented US workers” and replaces qualified American graduates with foreign labor.
Some Democrats, such as California senator Dianne Feinstein, have accused Sessions of wielding some influence in drafting Trump’s executive order that temporarily suspended the refugee program and barred travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Sessions has denied he was involved.
In his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions categorically denied that he would support a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, which Trump had advocated for during the early stages of his campaign. But Sessions also noted that Trump had since clarified that travel restrictions should only apply to countries that support terrorism.
Despite widespread, bipartisan support for federal drug sentencing reform, Sessions has long opposed efforts to treat drug offenders with leniency. He is in favor of tough, mandatory minimums, and has argued as recently as last year that efforts to overhaul federal drug sentencing would release “violent felons” into the street.
As US Attorney, drug convictions made up 40% of Sessions’ convictions — a rate which was double that of other federal prosecutors in Alabama, according to the Brennan Center.
Sessions has since become a strong supporter of eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses — even back when Congress was largely in favor of harsh sentencing.
Sessions is widely seen as a police-first candidate for Attorney General, and has won the backing of top police unions and law enforcement groups across the country. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions argued that police have been “unfairly maligned” in recent years and vowed he would support officers.
His stance on policing has thrown the Department of Justice’s recent efforts toward police reform into jeopardy, as Sessions has frequently expressed skepticism over federal “consent decrees,” which were used increasingly during the Obama administration to attempt to rein in police departments accused of systemic discrimination and unconstitutional policing practices.
Sessions argued that police departments “often feel forced to agree to a consent decree just to remove that stigma and sometimes there are difficulties there.”