The Senate is in the process of confirming an Attorney General, and as you likely know, President-elect Trump nominated Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for the post.
The Attorney General leads the Dept. of Justice, and serves as the chief law enforcement officer for the nation. It is an appointment that could mean the difference between justice and systemic partiality.
That is why I find Sen. Sessions's history of dangerous biases against minorities, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations deeply troubling. His biases appear in his attempts to repeal basic, humane immigration programs and aid for low-income families. In addition, he continually attempts to impede on states' rights, especially with regard to marijuana.
These biases arguably cost him a federal judgeship, and if he's unfit to serve on the federal bench, he's certainly unfit to serve as Attorney General. The nomination of Sen. Sessions would be a direct threat to American liberties and it is the responsibility of every American to hold him and others accountable.
Although, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I do not get to ask Senator Jeff Sessions questions during his confirmation hearing (the Senate has that duty), I have been thinking a lot about what I would ask, and what I encourage Senators to ask with what is at stake.
Here are my top five questions I want Sen. Jeff Sessions to answer:
1. Under your direction, what changes, if any, would occur in immigration courts?
The Attorney General has authority over the hiring and training of our immigration judges, deciding who will be targeted for deportation, setting guidelines for how removal cases are to be decided, as well as whether or not to honor precedent in our immigration court system.
This authority, if used improperly, could gravely impact the lives of many vulnerable populations such as victims of domestic violence, human trafficking or torture.
2. How do you intend to balance our civil liberties and privacy rights with national security?
There is a natural tension between civil liberties and national security - but that does not mean the rights of citizens' should be given away in the name of national security.
Sen. Sessions has taken the position that the privacy rights of citizens are second to government surveillance and law enforcement investigation. Sen. Sessions continues to support the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA.
He also sponsored an amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that would require a company to turn over records without obtaining a warrant - an amendment that would have undermined the protections guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
3. Given your legislative record, how can you assure Americans that you will enforce hate crime protections?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in 2015, there were nearly 6,000 single-bias hate crime incidents involving over 7,000 victims.
During his time in the Senate, Sen. Sessions' repeatedly voted against hate crime bills - most notably the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act - and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Now, he's nominated to head an agency tasked with enforcing hate crimes protections.
4. Will you continue current longstanding programs intended to help our most vulnerable populations navigate our complicated immigration system?
A person's ability to meaningfully defend themselves in court is a cornerstone of our justice system, and this includes access to competent legal representation. Immigration is one of the most complicated areas of the law in the US, which is why individuals represented by competent legal counsel are far more likely to avoid deportation than those who represent themselves.
The Department of Justice currently has programs dedicated to providing vulnerable populations within our detention and removal system with pro bono attorneys. Other programs educate immigrants of their rights and potential defenses to removal. These programs align with the framework of our Constitution and values we hold dear. We should expect our Attorney General to uphold these safeguards.
5. Will you protect the rights of states to legalize, decriminalize, and regulate medicinal and recreational marijuana?
It's past time for the federal government to get out of the way of states that have voted to legalize cannabis.
Law-abiding businesses and customers in states that allow the regulated sale of marijuana should not be forced to worry constantly about federal interference or enforcement actions.
States like Colorado serve as an example of how allowing responsible adults to use marijuana generates revenue for classrooms, not cartels; creates jobs, not addicts; and boosts the economy, not the prison population.
Senator Sessions has criticized marijuana reform efforts in the past and as several states have approved some sort of marijuana legalization law, we need to know more than ever where Senator Sessions stands on marijuana reform.