"Jeff" Sessions III (born
December 24, 1946) is the junior United States Senator from Alabama.
First elected in 1996, Sessions is a member of the Republican Party
. He serves
as the ranking member
on the Senate Judiciary Committee
Beauregard Sessions III was born in Selma, Alabama, 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
from the Boy Scouts of
attending school in nearby Camden, Sessions
studied at Huntingdon
College in Montgomery, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969.
was active in the Young
and student body president there. Sessions attended the
University of Alabama School of
Law and graduated with his J.D. in 1973.
entered private practice in Russellville and later in Mobile, where he
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.
Sessions was an Assistant United
Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of
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
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
. Sessions was actively backed by Alabama Senator
, 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
rates nominees to the federal bench, rated Sessions
Sessions' confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary
Committee, four Department of Justice 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
the American Civil
(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
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."
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 Maryland and Arlen Specter of
Pennsylvania 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
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
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 Pennsylvania 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
52%-46% in the November general
. 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
. Sessions received 63 percent of the vote to Figures' 37
Sessions was only the second freshman Republican senator from
Alabama since Reconstruction
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
Sessions is a senior member on the Senate Budget Committee
. He also serves on the Energy
, in addition to being the Ranking Member of the
Sessions was ranked by National
as the fifth-most conservative
U.S. Senator in their March 2007
Conservative/Liberal Rankings. He backs conservative Republican
stances on foreign
, and social issues. He opposes
and illegal immigration
Sessions was a supporter of the "nuclear
," a tactic favored by then-Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist
in the spring of
2005 to change longstanding Senate rules to stop Democratic
of some of George W.
nominees to the federal courts
. When the "Gang of
14" group of moderate Senators led by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat
Ben Nelson of Nebraska struck a deal to avert the option, Sessions was one
of the agreement's most severe critics.
September 25, 2005, Sessions spoke at a rally attended by 400
people in Washington,
D.C. in favor of the War in
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
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
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
Sessions is a proponent of nuclear power, and has voted to open the
Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling
Sessions voted for the 2001
and 2003 Bush
, 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
for an amendment to the 2008 budget resolution, offered by
Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South
Carolina, which would
have placed a one-year moratorium on the practice of
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
hit the Gulf Coast
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
and I were talking about the estate
. 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
, 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.
Notes and references
- Profile of Sessions by CQ Press
- Kathleen Hunter and Bart Jansen, All Eyes on Grassley for Judiciary Republicans’
Post-Specter Shuffle, CQ Politics, May 1, 2009
- Matt Kelley, Supreme Court pick Sotomayor under fire for
comments, USA Today, May 29, 2009
- Brian J. Foley, "I Gave My Copy of the Constitution to a Pro-War
Veteran", Antiwar.com, October 1, 2005
- Library of Congress
- Congressional Record, August 14, 2005
- Jerry Underwood, "Senator Shelby wants auto bailout put in
neutral", Birmingham News, November 16, 2008
- Robert Barnes, Amy Goldstein,Paul Kane, "Nominee Sotomayor at center stage in Senate",
San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 2009
- Steve Padilla, "Sotomayor hearings: Judge is adamant, Sessions is
unconvinced", Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2009
- "U.S. Senate Roll Call Vote on the Nomination of
Sonia Sotomayor" U.S. Senate, August 6, 2009
- 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
- "U.S. Senate Roll Call vote on H.R. 9"
- "Sessions wants to extend Voting Rights Act
north", Decatur Daily News, May 11, 2006