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Donald Trump’s first year in office has been marked by many troubling and even astonishing events. But in few areas has he been able to wreak havoc so quickly as on the justice front, where a parade of extreme and unqualified judicial nominees, retrograde policy reversals, and even explicit malice toward the judiciary have unquestionably made their mark.
At the Department of Justice, Trump has repeatedly compromised the independence of our central law enforcement agency, damaging the public’s faith in one of our most important civic institutions. Trump himself has said “I have the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” His desire to keep the Department under his thumb has been borne out in his interactions with officials who are tasked with investigating his personal and campaign ties to Russia. He has inappropriately, and perhaps illegal, pressured the FBI, where he, in his own words, fired the Director, James Comey, because of “this Russia thing.” Trump also admitted that “regardless of recommendation[s] [he] was going to fire Comey.” He has further shown a troubling proclivity for autocratic behavior by ordering the Department to investigate his political opponents.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leading the Department wherever the President steers him, has also wasted no time in demonstrating his lifelong opposition to civil rights and civil liberties. The hostility of Sessions’s DOJ to LGBTQ rights is especially notable. Under Sessions, the DOJ has rescinded protections for transgender students from discrimination at school, and argued that civil rights laws don’t protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, under Sessions’s leadership, the Justice Department announced its support of Masterpiece Cakeshop and issued an amicus brief supporting a baker’s right to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.