PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Philadelphia Monday to receive the Union League’s Lincoln Award. He used an address to criticize judges and defend Trump administration actions.
The attorney general received a standing ovation from the sold-out luncheon. The Alabama-bred Sessions, himself, joked about getting the award.
“You have not presented the Lincoln Award to anyone named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions the Third, I’m sure of that,” Sessions said.
But it turns out Sessions, unlike many of his southern compatriots, is not a states-righter. In fact, he says, state and local attempts to set their own policies, be it legal marijuana or welcoming immigration policy, is a threat to the rule of law.
“Federal laws are supreme,” Sessions said. “If something is legal under state law but illegal under federal law, it remains illegal under federal law.”
Sessions told the crowd that judges are trying to direct policy by imposing injunctions on White House actions, but he says his department is fighting back on a number of fronts.
“We’re gonna win most of them,” he said. “You may not think so, but we’re going forward and we’re going to win, I gotta tell you.”
He pointed to his department’s defense of ending subsidies for insurance purchased under the Affordable Care Act and the right of a baker to deny service to a gay couple.
“They were being sued to force him to bake a cake for a wedding he didn’t approve of,” the attorney general said. “We issued a memo to set out policy, and I’m proud of it, to deal with the free exercise of religion.”
Sessions also criticized local governments with welcoming immigration policies.
“We have seen jurisdictions around the country attempt to nullify federal immigration law under so-called ‘sanctuary policies,'” said Sessions. “As I mentioned, we are no longer allowing so-called sanctuary jurisdictions to defy federal law if they want to receive our federal grant money.”
The topic was timely since members of Congress are expected to start open debates on a new immigration bill Monday.
Many Democrats are hoping the bill is one that will include a plan for the soon-to-end DACA program and Dreamers.
On DACA, though, the attorney general remarked about what he feels is absurd injunctions against the administration’s action to end the program in the first place.
“We provided legal counsel to end the DACA policy, that was unlawful. We are being sued, saying that changes in the DACA policy that were blocked by the courts. That change can’t be brought back to what it was 40 years before,” said Sessions.
This is an area where the department has clashed with Philadelphia. By coincidence, Mayor Jim Kenney was also at the Union League, but didn’t attend the lunch and said he had no plan to try to discuss the issue with Sessions.