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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Reagan Alumni Association's Celebration of President Reagan's Birthday


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery.


Thank you, Lou, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your 30 years of leadership at the Reagan Alumni Association, helping us honor the legacy of one of our greatest presidents. 

With nearly 5,000 members across the country, this Association helps us keep alive the spirit of the Reagan years—a love of liberty, a fervent patriotism, and determination to deliver accomplishments for the American people.

We have a lot of other distinguished alumni here: my old friend Ed Feulner.  This is, after all, the house that Feulner built.

I also want to thank National Security Advisor Dick Allen, Agriculture Secretary Jack Block, Transportation Secretary and former ADAG Jim Burnley, Ambassador Jerry Carmen, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Ken Cribb, FTC Chairman Jim Miller, Ambassador Faith Whittlesey, Gil Robinson, and Ed Rollins. 

Those are some big names.  Frankly I’m a little surprised they let me in here.

I especially want to thank Attorney General Meese for his service to this country.  You led the nation’s fight against crime.  You began the progress that reduced a long surging crime rate by 50 percent.  It was an honor to have had you as my boss when I was a U.S. Attorney. 

To this day there is nothing I am more proud of than my 14 years as a federal prosecutor.  A large part of that time was under your leadership.

You are one of the greatest Attorneys General ever to serve.  You have been a role model for me.  I keep your portrait on the wall of our conference room as a reminder of the example that you set.

And I say that not only as a credit to you, but to President Reagan.

He accomplished so much that it’s easy to forget just how central the crime message was to his agenda and how unappreciated has been his success.

That’s what I would like to discuss with you tonight.  I won’t talk about the historic economic growth—how we averaged 3.5 percent growth over 8 years.  I won’t talk about how our economy grew by a third—which was the equivalent of adding the economy of Germany to ours.  I won’t talk about how we went 92 months in a row without a recession.  I won’t talk about the tax cuts.  I won’t talk about how he broke the back of surging inflation—cutting it by two-thirds.

I won’t talk about how the stock market nearly tripled.  I won’t even talk about the historic fall of the Evil Empire.

But, we should recognize that what President Reagan did for our legal system was truly historic and incredibly important to America.

First of all, I think that was a big part of his victory.  Reagan was not elected to defeat the Soviet Union.  Actually that was probably a negative for him.  Some people were afraid he’d start a war.  It was assumed that we were engaged in a “long twilight struggle”, one that many thought would last until Kingdom come. 

He was elected to stop the dramatic rise in crime that arose after the Great Society.

The violent crime rate tripled from 1964 to 1980.  Robbery tripled.  Rape tripled.  Aggravated assault nearly tripled.  Murder doubled. The people were not happy. Personal safety was a huge issue. The last liberal, as was said, was mugged.

By 1980, judicial activism looked triumphant.  It was praised as a virtue and not a vice.  Originalism seemed to have gone the way of the Dodo.

Ronald Reagan was elected to fix this situation. He was the law & order candidate- that’s for sure. It was not Jimmy Carter. Nixon had run on law and order successfully. 

President Reagan promised change and he delivered.  His achievements with regard to legal reform are nothing short of remarkable. They have not been fully appreciated.

First of all, he appointed a law professor named Antonin Scalia to the D.C. Circuit, and then to Supreme Court of the United States.  What a momentous decision.  Justice Scalia served for 30 influential years.  I believe that he is one of the best judges in American history, and maybe even the Anglo-American tradition. 

That appointment helped change the culture of the legal profession.  Originalism began to catch on in the courts and even in academia, of all places.  Three decades later, even the most activist judges at least pay lip service to original public meaning.

But, let’s be clear. Ed Meese was a central figure in the rebirth of originalism, too.  

His speeches—and in particular the Tulane speech—started a national conversation (kicked off a national controversy, in fact) about the proper separation of powers, and they are still influential 30 years later.  I used to keep a copy of the Tulane speech in my desk.

My good friend Judge Bill Pryor was Editor in Chief of the Tulane Law Review at the time and invited General Meese to speak.  I know that speech had a big impact on Judge Pryor as well. Ed Meese’s ideas and vision were the foundation for a dramatic decrease in crime.

President Reagan was a strong leader and a good boss.  There was never any doubt about what he expected from us. And I drew a lesson from that: a strong leader is one who makes his expectations simple and clear.

When I became a United States Attorney, I told my staff, “I know why Ronald Reagan put me here: to put crooks in jail and to protect the treasury.”

We took on violent crime, drug dealers, the Miami cocaine cowboys, the mafia, government corruption, waste fraud, and abuse in government programs.

President Reagan signed into law a number of legal reforms that empowered the law enforcement effort.

There was the elimination of parole, the issuing of sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences in certain cases, the elimination of bail on appeal, and increased bail for dangerous criminals before trial.

We increased the DEA, FBI, ATF, and federal prosecutors. Many states followed Reagan’s leadership.

I was a prosecutor before these laws went into effect and I was a prosecutor after these laws went into effect.  I can tell you firsthand that they were transformational. These were the biggest changes in law enforcement since the founding of this country. These laws were critical to re-establishing law and order. 

When a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing hard time, he is a lot more willing to cooperate. When the sentence is uncertain and up to the whims of the judge, criminals are a lot more willing to take a chance. The certainty of a significant sentence does, in fact, have a deterrent effect. And the recidivist can’t commit his crimes if he is in the slammer. 

We got tough about drug abuse because—as surely as night follows day—violence, addiction and death follow drug activity. 

And those who were put in jail in the mid-to-late 1980s could not commit crimes in the 1990s, which is when the steep decline in crime became most apparent.

I mentioned how dire the situation was in 1980. 

That was before Reagan.  After the changes that we made were put in place, from 1991 to 2014, the violent crime rate was cut in half.  So were the murder rate and the robbery rate.  Aggravated assault was cut by 47 percent, and rape was cut by more than one third. 

These are remarkable achievements that made this country a better place. So when I look up at my portrait of Ed Meese on the wall of my conference room, that’s what I think about. And that example inspires the work that we do every day.

Under President Trump, we are determined to advance President Reagan’s work of restoring the rule of law.

President Trump sent us an order to support our men and women in blue and to “reduce” crime in America. We embrace that goal and intend to achieve it. Of course, the anti-crime effort often goes unnoticed no matter how important.

I can ask you to give me a minute to discuss some other things we are doing to restore the rule of law and the constitutional balance.

First, President Trump, as you know, has nominated some fabulous judges. That’s critical to the rule of law. Last year, the Department finally settled 22 civil cases with 90 plaintiffs regarding the previous administration’s wrongful contraception mandate.

We also agreed to settlement terms with nearly 500 plaintiffs in cases brought by groups who were targeted by the IRS when they applied for tax-exempt status, they were subject to inappropriate criteria that disproportionately impacted conservative groups.

The Department also provided legal counsel to support agencies in this administration to end subsidies to insurance companies that Congress had not appropriated the funds for under the Affordable Care Act.

The executive branch cannot spend money not appropriated by Congress.

We provided legal counsel to end the unlawful DACA policy. 

Our Solicitor General filed an amicus brief in support of a Colorado baker who was sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

We issued a memo to help set policy to protect the free exercise of religion.

We are no longer allowing so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions to nullify federal immigration law if they want to receive our law enforcement grants.

In June, I ended the practice of third party settlements. 

Under the previous Administration, the Justice Department often required settling parties to pay settlement funds to third party organizations that were not directly involved in the litigation or harmed by the defendant’s conduct.  Now those funds either go to victims or to the public treasury.

Government lawyers and bureaucrats do not have constitutional authority to appropriate taxpayer money for their favored groups.

We have ended regulation-by-guidance, where bureaucrats would impose regulations by simply sending a letter, going outside the process required by law.  We have rescinded dozens of existing regulations that were created in this unjustified manner and are studying more.

We are hammering violent groups- especially the vicious MS-13.

We are not going to pretend that there is not a law against marijuana, or that it’s not bad for you.

We also honoring a directive that Ed Meese first made as Attorney General by ending regulation-by-litigation, the sue and settle abuse. Now special interests can no longer sue an agency, then get the agency to impose a new regulation as a settlement.

We don’t think illegal drug use is “recreation”. Lax enforcement, permissive rhetoric, and the media have undermined the essential need to say no to drug use- don’t start. And we are identifying pill mill doctors and sending large members to the slammer.

We have taken many other steps to restore the rule of law at the Department. 

But I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we still have work to do. There have been some very sharp criticisms about the Department. I hear these criticisms and welcome the discussion.  Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant. We will not ignore these problems or hide our heads in the sand. 

Much of what we are doing is behind the scenes—matters I can’t discuss publicly.  I’m sure that you can understand why.  We will also make sure that all our employees are treated fairly.

I work hard every day to be worthy of the great trust I have been given- just as I did in 1981 when President Reagan named me U.S. Attorney.

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, to earn the confidence of the American people. And that is what we will do.

Thank you.

Updated February 6, 2018