As two crime victims’ rights advocates and law professors, we welcome the announcement that President-elect Trump will nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general of the United States.
Senator Sessions has a long and robust record of fighting for justice, and more specifically for enforceable victims’ rights. If confirmed by the Senate, he will undoubtedly be a powerful voice for crime victims as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
Our enthusiasm about Senator Sessions stems from the fact that he was an early supporter of amending the U.S. Constitution to protect rights for crime victims.
This idea was first proposed by a Task Force assembled by President Ronald Reagan and later endorsed by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The Victims’ Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1996 by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Jon Kyl. Senator Sessions strongly advocated for the amendment and will be the country’s first Attorney General to cast votes for amending the Constitution to give rights to crime victims.
In his support for the Amendment, much about the core of the man and his sense of justice is revealed. Senator Sessions strongly supported the Amendment because, as a Senate Judiciary Committee Report in which he joined, explained: “It is time to extend Federal constitutional recognition to those who are too often forgotten by our criminal justice system – the innocent victims of crime.”
It is no exaggeration to say that Senator Sessions voted to open the doors of the courtroom to the parents of a murdered child during the trial of the accused murderer. He voted to let a woman who has been brutalized by rape tell the court about the impact of the crime on her life. And he voted to give a voice to the victims of domestic violence before decisions are made about releasing those accused of perpetrating violence against them.
The Senator’s strong bipartisan record on behalf of crime victims does not end there. Senator Sessions crossed the aisle to work with Senator Feinstein to preserve restitution rights for crime victims and to provide stronger protections for victims of child abuse. He joined with the late-Senator Ted Kennedy to reduce sexual assaults in prison. He worked with Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin to address sentencing disparities in federal drug laws and increase penalties for the most serious drug traffickers. And in many other ways, he fought against weakening the federal criminal laws whenever they posed an undue risk of creating even more victims of crime.
More impressive still is his courage as a prosecutor to take up the cause of pursuing justice for crime victims through the prosecution of their attackers.
He stood against headwinds of the Old South to prosecute KKK criminals in Alabama. He prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, son of Alabama Klan leader Bennie Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a black teenager.
As a prosecutor, Senator Sessions established a record as aggressive, but fair. He remained focused on the ethical duty to do justice.
We are excited about the prospect of an attorney general who sees the need for expanding rights and services for crime victims, and who has demonstrated the heart, the courage, and the leadership to head a Department of Justice that will ensure justice is pursued for all, including and especially for the crime victim.
Paul Cassell is a former federal judge and the Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
Steven Twist is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.