Where Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions Comes Down On Consumer Issues

The election may feel like it happened just yesterday, but it’s now ten days behind us, and the building transition to the administration turnover in January is well underway. As part of that, today we learned President-Elect Donald Trump’s top choice for a key role that affects consumers and consumer rights nationwide: he will nominate Sen. Jefferson Sessions of Alabama as Attorney General.

Sessions began his federal career in 1975 as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the southern district of Alabama, and then in 1981 got promoted out of “assistant” and became the U.S. Attorney for that district, a position he held until 1993. During that time, President Reagan did nominate Sessions for a U.S. District Court seat, but the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against moving his nomination forward. In 1995 he became the Alabama Attorney General, a position he held until winning an election to the Senate in 1996. He was sworn into the Senate in 1997, and has been serving there ever since.

Sessions is best-known for his history of challenging civil rights laws and his hardline stance against illegal immigration — a policy position he is expected to continue taking in his new role, if confirmed.

However, the Attorney General’s role as head of the Department of Justice goes far beyond immigration. As Attorney General, Sessions would have authority to set a broad agenda and enforce law by pursuing — or choosing not to pursue — a huge array of case types.

A giant pile of those cases have to do with consumer issues. The DoJ handles everything from prosecuting fraud to antitrust merger review; in this year alone, we’ve written dozens of stories here about DoJ actions.

In the DoJ as in any organization, though, the boss sets the tone for priorities. What we mostly know about a member of Congress’s opinions has to do with which committees they serve on; most folks don’t have a hand in everything but rather, deep oversight into a few things. So with that in mind, here’s what we know about Sessions’ most positions on several recent consumer-facing issues.

Sessions is adamantly opposed to the ACA, and has been for many years.

In 2013 he both backed the House effort to defund the bill, and co-sponsored a Senate act seeking to do the same. He also strongly supported the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling exempting closely-held, for-profit, secular businesses from having to provide health plans with contraceptive coverage for female employees.

Sessions is against marijuana legalization. At a Senate hearing in April, Sessions said that marijuana “is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny,” and said that he wanted “to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

The current Justice Department has been slowly backing away from spending time and money on marijuana prosecutions, as the cultivation and use of the drug slowly continues to be legalized or decriminalized at the state level; 28 states and the District of Columbia now permit at least some medical or recreational use.

That hands-off approach may now be at an end, leading to continued challenges for entrepreneurs who can grow and sell legally in their home states, but without access to traditional business infrastructure.

Sessions has long opposed FCC actions to protect net neutrality. Back in 2010, Sessions co-sponsored the FCC Act, which sought to prevent the FCC from creating any new rule without first proving that consumers are already being “substantially harmed” by the status quo.

In more recent years, Sessions has not served on the Senate committee that oversees telecommunications rules or FCC actions and so has not made on-the-record statements about the 2015 Open Internet Rule that we can find.

At one point during the lead-up to the election, the Trump campaign proposed, then pulled, rollbacks on some food safety regulation.

In September, Sessions signaled approval of the idea, telling the AP that although he had not seen the specific proposal, that farmers feel like there are already too many federal regulations in place on food production.

“In Washington, if you propose to pull back any regulation that has a good title, like food safety, then somebody says you want to poison the American people, and so forth,” Sessions said at the time. “But if it can be established that they are not really beneficial, often times the regulations can actually make things more unsafe.”

Sessions is a climate change skeptic and has a history of not supporting environmental regulations that affect existing extraction industries (oil and coal).

On the “Issues” section of his website, Sessions describes his position as determined to maintain the U.S. position as a leading producer of natural gas, oil, and gasoline, and touts his history of taking “an active role in defending American workers against unwarranted EPA regulations.”

In a 2015 Op-Ed for USA Today, Sessions wrote that existence of climate change is “contradicted by plain fact” and called new environmental protection laws “unrealistic restrictions on domestic energy” that will “wound our workers and make our businesses less competitive worldwide.”

Sessions has also repeatedly (2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014) been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade lobbying group that strongly opposes government spending, wants the ACA overturned, and believes that most regulation is “overzealous,” particularly any rules put in place by the EPA or Department of Labor.

Sessions hates the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In a statement in August, he said that it “cannot be fixed … it cannot be patched and saved,” concluding that it is “a failed agreement” that “must be rejected.”

He has also expressed skepticism about two other potential trade deals: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). The latter two trade agreements are still being negotiated, and may or may not come to fruition.

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