Vanita Gupta, the former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, called Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ harsh new sentencing policy “incredibly disappointing” in an interview Monday.
Last week, Sessions directed all federal prosecutors to pursue “the most serious, readily provable offense,” including those that carry mandatory minimum sentences — effectively reversing course on Obama-era policies aimed at drug sentencing reform.
Gupta, who also served as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, said the move was not entirely surprising given Sessions’ record in the Senate of resisting criminal justice reform. Still, she told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, the new policy marked a “resounding step backwards into the 1980s of failed policies in our criminal justice system that resulted in us having the highest incarceration rate of industrialized nations in the world.”
“It’s a real throwback in a lot of ways, and very troubling,” Gupta said, arguing that Sessions seems more guided by politics and rhetoric than evidence showing that mass incarceration is ineffective as a means of promoting public safety.
Evidence-based criminal justice reform is “one of the few issues that has brought Americans of all political stripes together over the last several years,” she said. “Yet the attorney general and [the Trump] administration seem to be out of line with the evidence and the momentum for reform.”
Gupta’s comments echoed a statement issued by former Attorney General Eric Holder last week, in which he called Sessions’ new tough sentencing policy “dumb on crime.”
Gupta had some equally harsh words for the president’s newly created commission to target voter fraud and its co-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading proponent of restrictive voting laws.
In addition to the fact that several studies have found no evidence of mass voter fraud in the U.S., Gupta said there is “simply no way to take this commission seriously or to think that it is in any way independent, given that Kris Kobach has been named at the helm of it.”
Kobach, who has publicly supported Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election, insisted on CNN Monday that the commission “is not set up to disprove or to prove President Trump’s claim, nor is it just looking at the 2016 election.”
“We’re looking at all forms of election irregularities — voter fraud, voter registration fraud, voter intimidation, suppression — and looking at the vulnerabilities of the various elections we have in each of the 50 states,” he said.
But Gupta isn’t buying it.
“It really just feels like a response to a political promise,” she said, adding that more than anything, the commission “seems to be setting the stage for efforts at mass voter suppression down the road.”
“I think those of us who care about voting rights are deeply, deeply troubled by this commission,” Gupta said.
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