Where some conservatives have sought to reduce the American prison population by reducing mandatory minimum sentences, Sessions has opposed those efforts. He opposes marijuana legalization, once citing Lady Gaga to warn of the perils of pot use. “Lady Gaga said she's addicted to it, and it is not harmless,” Sessions told then-Attorney General Eric Holder in a 2014 hearing. “She's been addicted to it.”
As attorney general, Sessions could rescind the current Justice Department policy of allowing states to pursue marijuana legalization. Sessions argued that a 1989 Trump ad implying the Central Park Five should be put to death, showed Trump’s commitment to “law and order.” The Five, a group of black and Latino men accused of rape, were later exonerated.
Sessions could also shift the resources of the Justice Department towards a crackdown on immigration. As attorney general, Sessions could choose to prosecute undocumented immigrants who return to the United States after being removed, putting them in federal prison instead of deporting them.
“Instead of re-deporting them, if instead the choice is made to prosecute them, you could have thousands and thousands and thousands of immigration crimes being prosecuted criminally, and they could fill up the federal prisons,” said Margo Schlanger, a professor of law at the University of Michigan and former head of civil rights at the Department of Homeland Security under Obama.
As a senator, Sessions was one of several Republican Senators who attempted to block the Justice Department from suing states over their harsh immigration laws.*
Many political analysts have argued that Trump’s victory was the result of his economic appeals, and not because of his derogatory statements about women, immigrants, people of color, or Muslims. Others have questioned the sincerity of those statements. But in selecting Sessions as attorney general, Trump reinforces the fear that his campaign-trail statements will now be translated into policy.
Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former high-ranking official in the civil-rights division under Obama, said simply, “I don't think Americans can have confidence that civil rights will be safe in the hands of a Sessions Department of Justice.”
* This article originally stated that Sessions said the civil rights division does not protect the rights of non-citizens; he said the opposite. We regret the error.