The Marshall Project

Trump Justice, Year One: The Demolition Derby

Here are nine ways the law-and-order president has smashed Obama’s legacy.

On criminal justice, Donald J. Trump’s predecessor was a late-blooming activist. By the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, his administration had exhorted prosecutors to stop measuring success by the number of defendants sent away for the maximum, taken a hands-off approach to states legalizing marijuana and urged local courts not to punish the poor with confiscatory fines and fees. His Justice Department intervened in cities where communities had lost trust in their police.

After a few years when he had earned the nickname "Deporter-in-Chief," Obama pivoted to refocus immigration authorities — in effect, a parallel criminal justice system — on migrants considered dangerous, and created safeguards for those brought here as children. He visited a prison, endorsed congressional reform of mandatory minimum sentences and spoke empathetically of the Black Lives Matter movement. He nominated judges regarded as progressives.

In less than a year, President Trump demolished Obama's legacy.

In its place, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has framed his mission as restoring the “rule of law,” which often means stiffening the spines and limiting the discretion of prosecutors, judges and law officers. And under President Trump’s “America first” mandate, being tough on crime is inextricably tied to being tough on immigration.

“I think all roads in Trump's rhetoric and Sessions’ rhetoric sort of lead to immigration,” said Ames Grawert, an attorney in the left-leaning Brennan Center’s Justice Program who has been studying the administration’s ideology. “I think that's going to make it even harder for people trying to advance criminal justice reform because that's bound up in in the president's mind, in the attorney general's mind, as an issue that they feel very, very passionately on -- restricting immigration of all sorts.”

Here are nine ways Trump has transformed the landscape of criminal justice, just one tumultuous year into

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project6 min read
Tennessee's Voter Restoration Gauntlet
The state’s byzantine felony disenfranchisement laws keep hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated residents from registering to vote.
The Marshall Project4 min read
Border Courts Swamped With New Asylum Cases
Thousands of cases have been filed since President Trump started forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.
The Marshall Project5 min read
A Thirst for Justice
“They booked me into a cell where there was a paper sign over the toilet saying DON’T DRINK THE WATER.”