9 important criminal justice stories of 2016
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  1. Trump picks Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas NSA leaker Reality Winner released from federal prison MORE for Attorney General

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been lauded by conservatives and criticized by liberals. Sessions’ prior comments on the KKK, civil rights lawyers and immigration, have made him an easy target for progressive attacks on Trump’s cabinet. His appointment, and Trump’s law-and-order campaign rhetoric leaves open the question: is criminal justice reform dead.

2. Sheriff David Clarke at the RNC

The Milwaukee County Sheriff won the hearts of millions of conservatives and raised his national political profile when he delivered his speech in primetime on Day # of the Republican National Convention. Clarke, long a critic of Black Lives Matter and progressives who critique police practices, became a lightning rod for pro law-and-order conservatives. Clarke was at one point on the short list to head the Department of Homeland Security having met with President-elect Trump in November.

3. Black Lives Matter


The Black Lives Matter movement, birthed in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, became a major player in national politics in 2016. Black Lives Matter published a policy platform in August and was a constant topic of discussion in national politics and criminal justice reform. The movement even took on Obama’s position on foreign asylum seekers. All this despite being a focal point for conservative disdain.

4. Philado Castile and Alton Sterling:

The shootings of two black men in less than a week rekindled the debate over the role of policing in communities of color. The killings sparked protest nationwide and brought the debate over the value of Black Lives back into the national spotlight. 

5. Dallas and Baton Rouge

In the wake of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling’s deaths, and while Black Lives Matter demonstrators protested the slayings of two black men so close together, two fatal attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge shook the nation. The conversation about Black Lives Matter and the relationship between communities of color and the police was front and center after the attacks.

6. Gun control

The mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando reenergized calls for gun control and universal background checks. While gun control didn’t dominate the 2016 presidential race, the NRA was backed Donald Trump and congratulated the president-elect shortly after his win.

7. Marijuana reform measures:

2016 might go down as the year, when the marijuana reform movement turned the corner. Nine states put marijuana reform measures on the ballot, and eight succeeded. The successes were largely attributed to shifting national views on marijuana. When the law goes into effect nearly one-quarter of U.S. residents will leave in states which allow recreational marijuana. 

8. Commutations

In his final year in the White House, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Fox News viewers 'perceive a different reality' than other Americans Police investigating death of TV anchor who uncovered Clinton tarmac meeting as suicide Ending the same-sex marriage wars MORE used his executive powers to commute more than 1,100 federal prison sentences, more than the last 11 presidents combined. The move was lauded as a step toward reducing mass incarceration by proponents of criminal justice reform.

9. Death penalty

As the criminal justice reform movement inched along nationwide, states began to grapple with death penalty. Pro-death penalty ballot measures won in blue California and deeply red Nebraska and Oklahoma. But the debate continues to rage as state like Arizona are grappling with employing more humane execution techniques. The closer look at lethal injection drugs started again in the wake of the gruesome execution of Christopher Brooks in January 2016.