Morning Docket: 05.24.17

* President Donald Trump has hired his longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz of Kasowitz Benson, to represent him as his independent counsel in the investigation of claims that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. Is anyone really surprised that Trump chose to hire Kasowitz? Moreover, is anyone really surprised that he’d further complicate hiring Joe Lieberman as FBI director by doing so? [FOX Business]

* In somewhat related news, despite having worked as a partner at WilmerHale — a firm that represents former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort as well as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — Robert Mueller has been approved by ethics experts at the Justice Department to go ahead as special counsel in the Trump/Russia investigation, as he did not participate in those matters. Things are about to start heating up. [NPR]

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This 1980s-era letter from Jeff Sessions is a peek into his scorched-earth crime-fighting policies

Jeff Sessions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has maintained his tough-on-crime posturing and disdain for liberal criminal justice policies since his early days as a US Attorney under the Reagan administration, a decades-old letter unearthed by The New Republic shows.

Although Sessions was then just a federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Alabama, he wrote his boss, then-Attorney General William French Smith, in September of 1982 to urge a radical approach to cracking down on crime.

Sessions’ memo to Smith, which David Dagan, a criminal justice researcher and a national fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, said he discovered in the National Archives, begins with an acknowledgment of the “presumptuous” nature of his letter, diminutively referring to himself as “a resident of the distant boondocks” as he predicts that a pending package of crime legislation will fail in Congress.

In place of the doomed legislation, Sessions suggests, the Reagan administration should take up a more ambitious strategy: Republicans should curry support for conservative crime policies, and portray liberal critics as hand-wringing crime-apologists.

“Once it is introduced, of course, the liberals will buzz about with agonizing whines,” Sessions writes.

“After they have come forth and identified themselves as sympathizers for drug smugglers and other assorted criminals, congregating about the bait, they should then be flattened by the President in a full-scale campaign on behalf of the legislation.”

Sessions calls on Smith to take a provocative approach and include in the new legislation “every” legitimate crime-related Republican demand, even those involving “controversial” issues such as the death penalty.

He also reveals his contempt for the mentality behind criminal justice reforms, presuming that liberals are more concerned with protecting the rights of criminals than fighting crime.

“All this will fit within what I believe is a White House strategy of defining who we are and who they are,” Sessions continues. “We support efforts to fight crime; they constantly attempt to obstruct needed reforms to protect the innocent from violent criminals. We support stability and order; they wander about wringing their hands crying for the criminals while violence every where escalates.”

Advocates of criminal justice reform frequently argue that traditional tough-on-crime tactics such as aggressive policing, zealous prosecution, and mass incarceration have not only failed to protect victims and rehabilitate criminals, they have also proven ineffective in reducing crime.

attorney general william french smith

Smith’s response to Sessions’ letter, which was also published by The New Republic, acknowledges the difficulty in passing crime legislation through Congress, and thanks Sessions for sharing his views on “the imbalance that has arisen between the forces of law and the forces of lawlessness.”

Although it’s unclear whether Sessions’ arguments had any influence on Smith or the Reagan administration, similar tough-on-crime mindsets pervaded through the US criminal justice system throughout the 1980s and 1990s, leading to a growing incarcerated population that has only in recent years begun to shrink at the federal level.

The 1982 letter appears especially prescient in light of Sessions’ recent announcement to rescind an Obama-era sentencing policy and order for federal prosecutors to begin charging suspects with the “most serious, readily provable” offenses that carry the harshest penalties.

Although the move was expected, it nevertheless triggered a wave of bipartisan skepticism. Broadening consensus has emerged in recent years on the value of criminal justice reform, and both Republicans and Democrats have sought to lighten sentences for drug offenders and ease prisoners’ re-entry into society.

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Republican Senator Rand Paul said in response to Sessions’ new sentencing policy. “Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ problem.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served as attorney general in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2015, was more blunt:

“It is dumb on crime,” Holder said in a statement. “It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”

SEE ALSO: ‘It is dumb on crime’: Sessions’ order for harsher drug sentences meets bipartisan backlash

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Non-Sequiturs: 05.23.17

* What are the best way for working moms to level up their childcare (assuming you have the money to do so)? [CorporetteMoms]

* It was great that Justice Thomas sided with the majority in the North Carolina gerrymandering case, but here’s the skinny on why Justice Kennedy didn’t sign on as well. [Election Law Blog]

* Louis Vuitton is gearing up to have its day in front of the Supreme Court. [The Fashion Law]

* Is “business casual” in its death throws? [The Atlantic]

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Key ‘Trumpcare’ architect Tom MacArthur resigns from centrist caucus

Rep. Tom MacArthur

Co-chairman of the moderate Republican caucus Tom MacArthur resigned from his leadership role on Tuesday, Politico reports.

MacArthur, who represents New Jersey in the House of Representatives, engineered the amendment that allowed the Republican-backed Obamacare replacement — the American Health Care Act — to pass.

According to Politico, MacArthur’s moves to pass the bill by negotiating with far-right Republicans caused him to fall out with some of his centrist colleagues.

“I’m not looking to be divisive within the group and I’m not looking to change who I am,” MacArthur told Politico. “I’m going to continue to govern the way I believe the American people need us to govern. That means we engage with the Freedom Caucus. We engage with everybody.”

After the new health bill passed, MacArthur also faced outrage from his mostly-Democratic district. People crowded in for a town hall and criticized MacArthur for pushing a bill that could cause thousands of people to see their insurance rates soar due to preexisting conditions. In what has since become known as the MacArthur Amendment, Obamacare’s restrictions on increasing insurance costs based on previous illnesses might no longer apply.

While many moderate Republicans spoke out against the American Health Care Act, MacArthur insisted that only a small percentage of Americans lose coverage under the new bill.

“This unwillingness to engage with members of our own party is unacceptable to me,” he said. A full report on the number of people who could lose health care coverage will be released just one day after MacArthur’s resignation.

Still, the former insurance broker told Politico that he intends to remain active in the caucus. After stepping down from the leadership role, he hopes to dedicate more time to negotiating with other Republicans.

You can read MacArthur’s full resignation statement here »

SEE ALSO: ‘People are waking up’: A key architect of ‘Trumpcare’ faces hostility back home

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