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Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions III (born December 24, 1946) is the junior United States Senator from Alabamamarker. First elected in 1996, Sessions is a member of the Republican Party. He serves as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Early life

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was born in Selma, Alabamamarker, to Abbie Powe and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Jr. His father owned a general store and then a farm equipment dealership. Sessions grew up in the small town of Hybart. In 1964 he became an Eagle Scout. In his adult life, he became a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

After attending school in nearby Camdenmarker, Sessions studied at Huntingdon Collegemarker in Montgomerymarker, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969. He was active in the Young Republicans and student body president there. Sessions attended the University of Alabama School of Lawmarker and graduated with his J.D. in 1973.

Sessions entered private practice in Russellvillemarker and later in Mobilemarker, where he now lives. He also served in the Army Reserve in the 1970s, achieving the rank of captain.

Sessions and his wife Mary have three grown children, Mary Abigail, Ruth Walk, and Sam, as well as one grandchild, Jane Ritchie.

Political career

U.S. Attorney

Sessions was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1975 to 1977. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. The Senate confirmed him and he held that position for 12 years.

Failed nomination to the district court

In 1986, Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions was actively backed by Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton, a Republican. The nomination of Sessions was first sent to the Senate for confirmation on October 23, 1985, and was resubmitted on January 29, 1986. The American Bar Association, which rates nominees to the federal bench, rated Sessions "qualified."

At Sessions' confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, four Department of Justicemarker lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he had made several racist statements. One of those lawyers, J. Gerald Hebert, testified that Sessions had referred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as "un-American" and "Communist-inspired" because they "forced civil rights down the throats of people."

Hebert said that Sessions had a tendency to "pop off" on such topics frequently and had once called a white civil rights lawyer who dealt with voting rights suits a "disgrace to his race."

Thomas Figures, a black Assistant U.S. Attorney, testified that Sessions said he thought the Klan was "OK until I found out they smoked pot." Figures also testified that on one occasion, when the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent the office instructions to investigate a case that Sessions had tried to close, Figures and Sessions "had a very spirited discussion regarding how the Hodge case should then be handled; in the course of that argument, Mr. Sessions threw the file on a table, and remarked, 'I wish I could decline on all of them,'" by which Figures said Sessions meant civil rights cases generally. After becoming Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, Sessions was asked in an interview about his civil rights record as a U.S Attorney. He denied that he had not sufficiently pursued civil rights cases, saying that "when I was [a U.S. Attorney], I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies."

Figures also said that Sessions had called him "boy." He also testified that "Mr. Sessions admonished me to 'be careful what you say to white folks.'"

Sessions responded to the testimony by denied the allegations, saying his remarks were taken out of context or meant in jest, and also stating that groups could be considered un-American when "they involve themselves in un-American positions" in foreign policy. Sessions said during testimony that he considered the Klan to be "a force for hatred andbigotry." In regards to the marijuana quote, Sessions said the comment was a joke but apologized.

In response to a question from Joe Biden on whether he had called the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, Sessions replied "I'm often loose with my tongue. I may have said something about the NAACP being un-American or Communist, but I meant no harm by it."

Although on the Judiciary Committee Republicans held 10 seats and Democrats eight, on June 5, 1986 the Committee voted 10-8 against recommendation the nomination to the floor, with Republican Senators Charles Mathias of Marylandmarker and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvaniamarker voted with the Democrats. It then split 9-9 on a vote to send Sessions' nomination to the Senate floor with no recommendation, with Specter again voting with the Democrats. The pivotal votes against Sessions came from Democratic Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama. Although Heflin had previously backed Sessions, he began to oppose Sessions after hearing testimony, concluding that there were "reasonable doubts" over Sessions' ability to be "fair and impartial." The nomination was withdrawn on July 31, 1986.

Sessions became only the second nominee to the federal judiciary in 48 years whose nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions was quoted then as saying that the Senate on occasion had been insensitive to the rights and reputation of nominees.

After joining the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions remarked that his presence there, alongside several of the members who voted against him, was a "great irony." When Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvaniamarker left the GOP to join the Democratic Party on April 28, 2009, Sessions was selected to be the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. At that time, Specter said that his vote against Sessions' nomination was a mistake, because he had "since found that Sen. Sessions is egalitarian."

Alabama Attorney General and U.S. Senate

Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in November 1994. In 1996, Sessions won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, after a runoff, and then defeated Democrat Roger Bedford 52%-46% in the November general election. He succeeded Heflin, who had retired after 18 years in the Senate. In 2002, Sessions won reelection by defeating Democratic State Auditor Susan Parker. In 2008, Sessions defeated Democratic State Senator Vivian Davis Figures to win a third term. Sessions received 63 percent of the vote to Figures' 37 percent.

Sessions was only the second freshman Republican senator from Alabama since Reconstruction and gave Alabama two Republican senators, a first since Reconstruction. Sessions was easily reelected in 2002 becoming the first (or second, if one counts his colleague Richard Shelby, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 1994) Republican reelected to the Senate from Alabama.

Political positions

Sessions is a senior member on the Senate Budget Committee and the Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Energy Committee, in addition to being the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.

Sessions was ranked by National Journal as the fifth-most conservative U.S. Senator in their March 2007 Conservative/Liberal Rankings. He backs conservative Republican stances on foreign policy, taxes, and social issues. He opposes abortion and illegal immigration.

Sessions was a supporter of the "nuclear option," a tactic favored by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in the spring of 2005 to change longstanding Senate rules to stop Democratic filibusters of some of George W. Bush's nominees to the federal courts. When the "Gang of 14" group of moderate Senators led by Republican John McCain of Arizonamarker and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraskamarker struck a deal to avert the option, Sessions was one of the agreement's most severe critics.

On September 25, 2005, Sessions spoke at a rally attended by 400 people in Washington, D.C.marker in favor of the War in Iraq. It was held in opposition to an anti-war protest held the day before that was attended by 100,000 people. Sessions spoke of the anti-war protesters, saying, "The group who spoke here the other day did not represent the American ideals of freedom, liberty and spreading that around the world. I frankly don't know what they represent, other than to blame America first."

In the 109th Congress, Sessions introduced the Honoring Every Requirement of Exemplary Service Act (HEROES Act), which increased the death gratuity benefit from $12,420 to $100,000. The bill also increased the level of coverage under the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance from $250,000 to $400,000. Sessions' legislation was accepted in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005.

On October 5, 2005, he was one of nine Senators who voted against a Senate amendment to a House bill that prohibited cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment of individuals in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government.

Sessions has taken a strong stand against any form of citizenship for illegal immigrants. Sessions was one of the most vocal critics of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

Sessions was one of 37 Senators to vote against funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Sessions is a proponent of nuclear power, and has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Economic issues

Sessions voted for the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, and said he would vote to make them permanent if given the chance.

In 2006, Sessions received the "Guardian of Small Business” award from the National Federation of Independent Business.

He voted for an amendment to the 2008 budget resolution, offered by Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolinamarker, which would have placed a one-year moratorium on the practice of earmarking.

Sessions was one of 25 senators to vote against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (the bank bailout), arguing that it "undermines our heritage of law and order, and is an affront to the principle of separation of powers."

Supreme Court nominations

As ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, Sessions was the senior Republican who questioned Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee to succeed retiring Justice David Souter. Sessions focused on Sotomayor's views on empathy as a quality for a judge, arguing that "empathy for one party is always prejudice against another." Sessions also questioned the nominee about her views on the use of foreign law in deciding cases, as well as her role in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF). On July 28, 2009, Sessions joined 5 Republican colleagues in voting against Judge Sotomayor's nomination. The committee approved Sotomayor by a vote of 13-6. Sessions also voted against Sotomayor when her nomination came before the full Senate. He was one of 31 senators (all Republicans) to do so, while 68 voted to confirm the nominee.


Sessions unsuccessfully prosecuted three civil rights workers (including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King, Jr.), on a case of election fraud for the 1984 election. In the process of investigating voter fraud in predominantly black counties, 14 allegedly tampered ballots were discovered, out of approximately 1.7 million ballots cast. The three civil rights workers were acquitted after four hours of jury deliberation.

On September 9, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Sessions called his former law professor, Harold Apolinsky, co-author of Sessions' legislation repealing the federal estate tax, which had lost momentum in Congress, and left a voicemail: "Jon Kyl and I were talking about the estate tax. If we knew anybody that owned a business that lost life in the storm, that would be something we could push back with."

Sessions supported former Vice President Dick Cheney's proposal to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from any ban on the use of torture.

Sessions has supported the Voting Rights Act, but noted that it was a "piece of intrusive legislation." In 2006, he also said that Congress should consider if it was needed in some Northern cities and states.

Committee assignments

Electoral history

Notes and references

  1. Profile of Sessions by CQ Press
  2. (blog)
  3. [1]
  4. [2]
  7. (blog)
  8. Kathleen Hunter and Bart Jansen, All Eyes on Grassley for Judiciary Republicans’ Post-Specter Shuffle, CQ Politics, May 1, 2009
  9. Matt Kelley, Supreme Court pick Sotomayor under fire for comments, USA Today, May 29, 2009
  12. Brian J. Foley, "I Gave My Copy of the Constitution to a Pro-War Veteran",, October 1, 2005
  13. Library of Congress
  14. Congressional Record, August 14, 2005
  17. Jerry Underwood, "Senator Shelby wants auto bailout put in neutral", Birmingham News, November 16, 2008
  18. Robert Barnes, Amy Goldstein,Paul Kane, "Nominee Sotomayor at center stage in Senate", San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 2009
  19. Steve Padilla, "Sotomayor hearings: Judge is adamant, Sessions is unconvinced", Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2009
  20. "U.S. Senate Roll Call Vote on the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor" U.S. Senate, August 6, 2009
  21. Massimo Calabresi, "Looking for a Corpse to Make a Case: Senators look for a wealthy casualty of Katrina as evidence against the estate tax", Time Magazine, September 17, 2005
  22. "U.S. Senate Roll Call vote on H.R. 9"
  23. "Sessions wants to extend Voting Rights Act north", Decatur Daily News, May 11, 2006

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