Mother Jones

THE HARSH, PETTY, AND HIGHLY POLITICAL LAW OF JEFF SESSIONS

Trump’s attorney general brings his own brand of Alabama justice to Washington.
Sessions testifies before the Senate during his failed nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986.

AT THE HEIGHT of the war on drugs, a few quirks of geography conspired to place Mobile, Alabama, at the center of the action. Interstate 10, which runs through downtown, was a major drug trafficking route, carrying cocaine out west and marijuana back east. Seafaring smugglers ferrying drugs through international waters were sometimes tried in the Gulf Coast port city’s federal courthouse, where the top prosecutor was a zealous young US attorney named Jeff Sessions.

Sessions prioritized drug cases of all sizes, taking on prosecutions typically left to state authorities and often meting out long federal sentences. According to an analysis by the Mobile Register, Sessions’ policies helped southern Alabama establish a federal drug conviction rate that was almost four times the national average.

“It was so over the top,” says Alan Ross, one of the attorneys there that day. As Shohat and Ross recall, the judge ultimately sent Sessions—then a captain in the US Army Reserve—home to change. “Was he trying to prejudice the jury in some way with his military uniform?” says Shohat. “I suspect he was.”

The strange scene, shortly into Sessions’ tenure as the US attorney for southern Alabama, presaged years of less theatrical but more consequential displays of his willingness to put his thumb on the scales of justice in order to achieve his goals, sometimes through prosecutions that appeared politically motivated.

“Now Jeff Sessions owns every federal grand jury in America,” Shohat says ruefully. “Don’t get me indicted.”

BORN IN SELMA in 1946, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was raised in Hybart, a speck of a town in Alabama’s Black Belt, so

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