Immigration: Sessions has been one of the fiercest opponents of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, most recently the Gang of Eight effort in 2013 that sought to create a pathway for citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and overhauled every corner of the nation’s immigration system. He lost the fight in the Senate, but Sessions — who argued that the bill granted “immediate amnesty before security” — strategized with House conservatives to tank reform efforts there.
Sessions ramped up again for an immigration fight in early 2015, when he led the battle to strip federal cash for President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration that nearly prompted a funding lapse for the Department of Homeland Security.
Though he’s found plenty of support from GOP corners for his views on a pathway to citizenship and opposition to Obama’s unilateral moves, Sessions has also long advocated for curbs to future legal immigration, contending that a more generous immigration system ultimately hurts U.S.-born workers. That stance puts him at odds with business-friendly Republicans who lobby for more foreign workers, but has endeared the senator to Donald Trump and mirrors the president-elect’s hard-line immigration stance.
Law enforcement and police relations: Sessions and his backers can tout deep support from the law enforcement community, who sees the former prosecutor as someone deeply versed in criminal law who will advocate on behalf of police. A slew of sheriffs’ groups, ex-U.S. attorneys and former top law enforcement officials have endorsed Sessions to lead the Justice Department, including Louis Freeh, who served as FBI director for former President Bill Clinton.
But civil rights leaders are concerned that Sessions as attorney general would make a sharp break from the practices of the Obama Justice Department of investigating local police departments for potential abuses, particularly of minority citizens, following high-profile incidents in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, Chicago and Cleveland. According to the ACLU, 14 of the 23 investigations launched by the Obama administration of local police have ended in so-called consent decrees — when local agencies strike a deal with the feds on how to reform policing practices.
In a 2008 paper, Sessions outlined his opposition to consent decrees in general, warning that such “expansive” agreements are among the “most dangerous” uses of “raw power,” adding: “Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.” One senator — Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio — has already cited Sessions’ opposition to consent decrees as a reason he will not support his nomination.
Civil rights: Sessions’ alleged insensitivity on race was the biggest factor in the defeat of his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986, so regardless of how much attention those personal questions get Tuesday, Sessions’ history on civil rights issue seem sure to be the focus of close questioning.
In response to those allegations, Sessions’ backers tout his 2006 vote in favor of the extension of the Voting Rights Act, his support for desegregation cases while he was a U.S. attorney and his vote to confirm Eric Holder as the nation’s first African-American attorney general in 2009.
The Alabama senator’s critics say his vote to extend the Voting Rights Act was hardly a profile in courage since the Senate voted 98-0 in favor of that measure. They also note that he called the law “intrusive” and did not support efforts to revive a key part of the act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Sessions opposed the hate crimes law Congress passed in 2009 that added protection for crimes based on sexual orientation. Aides say he had doubts about its constitutionality. Sessions also voted against the so-called Lily Ledbetter law easing the filing of equal pay lawsuits by women, although he later congratulated Ledbetter— an Alabama native — on its passage.
Terrorism and surveillance: Sessions has taken an aggressive stance toward terrorism that has often put him at odds with the Obama administration and even some of his own Republican colleagues. With Trump advocating waterboarding and the killing of terrorists’ families on the campaign trail, senators could be looking to see whether Sessions adopts a more moderate tone on those subjects.
In 2015, Sessions voted against an amendment which would have limited the FBI and the CIA to using interrogation techniques authorized in the Army Field Manual. The measure sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) passed, 78-21, but Sessions said it was unwise. “One of the problems with the field manual is it tells enemy combatants what they can do and how they can conduct themselves to avoid effective interrogation, so we don’t need to spell out everything that’s permitted,” he told Al.com.
Sessions has opposed efforts to close the prison for war-on-terror detainees at Guantánamo Bay and has urged that newly captured prisoners be taken there rather than brought to the U.S. He also voted against the 2015 law aimed at banning the collection of bulk phone data by the National Security Agency, the USA Freedom Act. “Why make it much harder to investigate terrorists than common criminals?” he asked.
Members of the tech and civil liberties communities also fear he could escalate the battle to force companies to install backdoors that allow U.S. law enforcement authorities to defeat encryption on smartphones, computers and data in transit. The Obama administration turned down FBI Director James Comey’s effort to seek legislation on the point, but Sessions has suggested he’s friendly to the FBI view that something needs to be done to combat the encryption-related phenomenon law enforcement refers to as “going dark.”