An underappreciated attorney general
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has his critics. That’s not unusual: Mr. Sessions is a conservative in good standing and one expects the angriest voices of the left to engage in histrionic screeching over his tenure at the Department of Justice. These criticisms can be discounted as little more that the guttural roar of rejected and defeated partisans.
Sometimes, though, criticisms are levied at the attorney general from traditional allies, up to and including his boss, President Donald Trump. That’s a shame. Conservatives should know better than to attack one of our own. If I may rework Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” I would go so far as to say the political right should come here to praise Sessions, not to bury him.
In a media age built on sound bites and viral sensations, on reality TV drama and Twitter one-upmanship, Jeff Sessions doesn’t grab one’s attention. He isn’t flashy. His demeanor is courteous, respectful and thoughtful. He is not prone to act rashly, but only after great deliberation.
And it may be for these reasons that Mr. Sessions remains the most underappreciated member of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet. With little fanfare, Mr. Sessions is quietly and unassumingly building one of the most successful records of conservative accomplishment ever seen at the DOJ.
I could talk about Mr. Sessions’ accomplishments broadly. He has restored the primacy of the Rule of Law to the manner in which the Department of Justice carries out its affairs. He has an earnest belief that after 8 years of a DOJpresided over by an Obama appointee who was held in contempt of Congress, the American people deserve an attorney general who adheres to the highest ethical standards, even, and particularly, when he will face criticism for doing so. He has taken extensive actions to advance President Trump’s agenda to secure our borders, and to shepherd men and women devoted to upholding our Constitution onto our federal courts.
Instead, I’d like to talk about Mr. Sessions’ work on an issue that isn’t as glamorous as those above. Like the man who champions it, it is an issue that seemingly flies beneath the radar. It is the issue of every American’s First Amendment right to religious freedom.
The U.S. Supreme Court has just defended a Colorado cake baker’s right to have his sincerely held religious beliefs respected by a hostile and biased State Civil Rights Commission. The full, unfettered power of the State of Colorado had been deployed to force this individual baker to violate his conscience.
The baker needed allies. It isn’t easy for one man to withstand the will of the state; particularly when the state’s use of force is marketed as a benevolent act of secular kindness and mandated tolerance. Frankly, the baker didn’t have many people willing to ride to the sound of battle when he sounded the trumpets.
But Jeff Sessions did. He put the Justice Department on the case in support of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips. Mr. Sessions understands that the U.S. Constitution protects the expression of religious belief in public, and that constitutional rights are not necessarily forfeited as the cost of doing business.With Mr. Sessions leading a legal cavalry charge, the baker just won a resounding 7-2 victory at the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Sessions’ actions helped reaffirm everyone’s fundamental First Amendment right to practice their faith in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and their understanding of their religion’s teachings.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this. We’ve seen Mr. Sessions do this before. When the Obama administration sued the Little Sisters of the Poor, it was Jeff Sessions who stood with the religious rights of the nuns against the overarching reach of the Obama Administration’s radical abortion agenda. The Little Sisters prevailed.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who understands the emphasis the left has placed on ridding the public square of all semblance of religious belief, and he understands how much we all will lose if they get their way. He is also the rare man who is not only fighting back against this cultural tide, but is affirmatively posting wins that safeguard the liberties we prize.
Conservatives ignore and forget Mr. Sessions’ religious liberty successes at our peril. We should be thankful for him. It could well be that without a man like Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the helm of DOJ, our First Amendment rights wouldn’t have a prayer.
• Steve King, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa, is chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice and chairman of the Conservative Opportunity Society.