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Lawmaker demands release of Justice Dept. enforcement priorities

In light of a number of recent policy announcements by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a leading Senate Democrat is demanding details on the Justice Department's law enforcement priorities. Specifically, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is seeking the immediate release of recommendations of the presidential Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which Sessions leads.

As we discussed recently, Sessions recently indicated that federal law enforcement may soon be cracking down on marijuana offenses, even in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. He also urged U.S. Attorneys to increase the use of civil forfeitures, including "adoptive forfeitures" in which the federal government confiscates property originally seized by state or local officials.

The purpose of the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety is supposedly to reduce the incidence of violent crime, and a number of observers have expressed their disagreement with Sessions' viewpoint that marijuana and immigration play substantial roles in the violent crime rate.

"These [Justice Department] decisions could have dramatic and wide-ranging consequences for Americans' daily lives," Wyden wrote. "Yet Americans remain in the dark about the content of the task force's recommendations."

The task force was created in February by executive order. The names of its members have never been published, so it's not clear whose opinions are being heard. Its initial recommendations were due, according to Sessions, on July 27.

Despite the lack of transparency, Sessions says he has already begun acting on some of the task force's recommendations, which he says he has been receiving "on a rolling basis."

Wyden said he was particularly concerned about the "secrecy shrouding" the task force's recommendations related to marijuana, which his state just voted to legalize. "It is not the role of the Attorney General to unilaterally undermine the will of Oregon voters," his letter reads.

In order for our justice system to be considered fair, transparency has to be among the very top priorities of any administration. That includes providing information on the source, reasoning and possible biases of anyone making official policy recommendations to the government. The United States is not meant to have an executive branch that attempts to go against the people's stated will as expressed by federal and state legislatures.

Not only do legalizing states deserve to know what new policies could affect them, but the American people also deserve to have a full understanding of the Justice Department's priorities.

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