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February 12, 2018

Jeff Sessions in Philly: Honor Abe Lincoln by upholding letter of the law

U.S. attorney general decries federal judges who have blocked Trump policies

Politics Jeff Sessions
Jeff_Sessions_USA_Today Jack Gruber/USA Today

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks before the House Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on the Department of Justice, Nov. 14, 2017.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried the federal district court judges who have blocked Trump administration policies by issuing nationwide injunctions, arguing such power abuses constitutional balance.

In accepting the Lincoln Award at The Union League of Philadelphia on Monday, Sessions said the best way to honor Abraham Lincoln is by "upholding the rule of the law, day in and day out."

But he said the Constitution is being undermined by individual judges who have blocked President Donald Trump's policies on immigration, as well as so-called "sanctuary cities" that defy federal immigration law.

"If you want to change the laws of this country, or the nation's policies, the Constitution sets out a process," Sessions said. "You have to persuade your fellow citizens to work through the legislative process by persons elected, not faceless bureaucrats."

Sessions compared such actions to the "disputes over secessions and nullification" prior to the Civil War, which he called "attempts to undo duly enacted laws of our country."

"Unfortunately, time and again, those who could not achieve their policy goals at the ballot box have attempted to impose them on their fellow citizens by other means," Sessions said.

Speaking on Lincoln's 209th birthday, Sessions addressed a ballroom filled with Union League members. The traditionally Republican club formed in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the Union and Lincoln's policies.

Outside the Second Empire styled mansion, a group of re-enactors prepared to march from Broad Street to Independence Hall as part the Union League's annual Lincoln Day celebration.

Sessions bemoaned the 19 national injunctions leveled against the Trump administration in its first year, but claimed those injunctions ultimately will be overturned by higher courts.

"We're going to win most of them," Sessions said. "You may not think so, but we're going forward. And we're winning them, I've gotta tell you."

Sessions criticized "sanctuary cities," like Philadelphia, that refuse to comply with federal immigration orders, shielding undocumented immigrants who are arrested for nonviolent offenses. 

But he said the U.S. Department of Justice remains committed to carrying out the rule of the law, noting its attempts to withhold federal grants from "sanctuary cities."

Such efforts have led to a continued fight between Philadelphia and the Department of Justice.

In November, a district court judge ruled that the Department of Justice could not withhold federal funding from Philadelphia because of its sanctuary status. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by the city in August. 

But Sessions doubled down on Monday.

"One hears activists and a few officials even talk of nullification and secession," Sessions said. "Let them come here to the Union League – or Gettysburg – if they'd like a legal and historical lesson on those subjects."

Sessions also praised the DOJ for providing legal counsel to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Dreamers, program and supporting religious freedom rights by backing a Colorado baker who was sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Additionally, Sessions said DOJ settled with nearly 500 conservative groups that were subjected to "inappropriate criteria" when applying for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. And he hailed efforts to reduce violent crime, overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions.

"My purpose every day is to ensure that we remain true to our fundamental mission of enforcing the law and protecting the safety of Americans with integrity and fairness," Sessions said. "And to earn the confidence of the American people."

Sessions delivered the remarks after making a speech earlier in the day to the National Sheriffs' Association in Washington, D.C. That speech generated headlines after Sessions said "the office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement."

That line strayed from his written remarks, which read "the sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."

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