Attorney General Jeff Sessions “came home” to Mobile Friday to officially dedicate downtown’s new federal courthouse, but while he seemed to enjoy reminiscing with old colleagues, he declined to answer questions about current coworkers waiting back in Washington D.C.
As Lagniappe previously reported, the opening of the new federal courthouse at the corner of St. Louis and St. Joseph streets earlier this summer was the culmination of years of effort that began with the legislative efforts of Sessions and long-time Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby.
You can read more about the details of the new facility in this week’s edition of Lagniappe.
A member of the appropriations committee, Shelby is said to have been instrumental in securing the funding needed to see the $101 million federal project come to fruition. Those dollars will also fund a large-scale renovation of Mobile’s John Archibald Campbell Courthouse next door.
Shelby, who was a judge prior to his 32-year Senate career, said that federal courthouses are often designed and built to be grandiose because of what they represent.
“This is more than a building,” Shelby said of the new facility Friday afternoon. “This is a symbol of the strength of America and its judicial system.”
Across the aisle, Alabama’s junior senator, Democrat Doug Jones, made similar comments, though he did acknowledge the work to secure the project happened before he was elected.
What Jones has been involved with, though, are courthouses.
A former U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Alabama, Jones has spent a lot of time in buildings used by the American justice system and said Mobile’s is enviable.
“What I envy the most is the technology, the security and the things that I never had as a young lawyer starting out. This is truly a remarkable achievement,” Jones said. “A building is wonderful, but it’s the heart, soul and minds of the people who truly make it work every day — whether they’re coming in the front door to participate or the backdoor to preside. The justice of America is the heart and the soul of the people in these buildings.”
Sessions, who spent 12 years as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, received a standing ovation when he took the podium. Many in the crowd had worked with or for Sessions during that time including current U.S. Attorney Richard Moore, Senior District Judge Ginny Granade and Presiding Judge Kristi DuBose — a former AUSA in Sessions’ office who also spent two years as his chief counsel in the Senate.
“I can tell you that after all my adventures, there is nothing I am more proud of than my 12 years as a United States Attorney here in Mobile,” he said. “We practiced every day before outstanding and honorable federal judges. We took on corruption; we broke up national and international fraud schemes, and we took tons of drugs off our streets, and many violent criminals. It was a glorious time, I must say.”
After reflecting on the past for a few moments, Sessions turned to the matter at hand. He said the new courthouse, which is situated between Mobile’s downtown and waterfront, would build on the United States’ “unsurpassed legal heritage” — one he touted for its “history, objectivity, integrity, and consistency.”
Appearing to allude to the cost of the new structure, Sessions described himself as “a frugal person,” but said a U.S. federal courthouse should “reflect the August nature of the work going on inside” — the work of a legal system that he heralded as “one of the great jewels in this nation’s crown.”
“In this building, criminals will be prosecuted and sentenced. Victims will be vindicated and their rights defended. Laws will be enforced and upheld. Justice will be done. The trust of the people will be earned,” he continued. “But above all, in this building, the greatest legal system on Earth will continue day after day, and it will be perpetuated, defended, and handed on to generations yet unborn.”
While Sessions’ prepared comments were lengthy, he did not make himself available to a press pool that included local reporters and members of the national media. After a ceremonial ribbon cutting, Sessions did not respond to questions about President Donald Trump’s request that the Department of Justice investigate the origin of an anonymous Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times earlier this week.
The article, allegedly written by “a senior official in the Trump administration,” describes a previous and ongoing effort from aides working in the White House to stop some of Trump’s “more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
Since it was published, more than two dozen top officials in the Trump administration have denied being the source of the Op-Ed, and after first asking whether other journalists would “investigate” the source of the piece, Trump said Friday that the Department of Justice should be doing that job instead.
When asked, Trump said a DOJ investigation was warranted for “national security” reasons, though he didn’t elaborate or acknowledged the veracity of the claims in the op-ed. Sessions has yet to respond as well.