Jefferson Beauregard ”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 minority member on the Senate Budget Committee.
Raised in the town of Hybart in Monroe County, Alabama, Sessions graduated from Huntingdon College in Montgomery and the University of Alabama School of Law. In the 1970s he worked in private practice and rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. From 1981 to 1993 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. President Ronald Reagan nominated him to a judgeship on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in 1986, but the Senate confirmation failed after it was alleged that he had made racist remarks to a colleague. Sessions was elected to Attorney General of Alabama in 1994. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and easily re-elected in 2002 and 2008. He and his colleague Richard Shelby are the state’s first two-term Republican Senators since Reconstruction.
Sessions was ranked by National Journal in 2007 as the fifth-most conservative U.S. Senator, siding strongly with the Republican Party on political issues. He supported the major legislative efforts of the George W. Bush administration, including the2001 and 2003 tax cut packages, the Iraq War, and a proposed national amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, he was one of 25 senators to oppose the establishment of TARP. He has opposed the Democratic leadership since 2007 on most major legislation, including the stimulus bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. Formerly the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he opposed both of Obama’s nominees for theSupreme Court.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was born in Selma, Alabama, the son of Abbie (née Powe) and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Jr. His father owned a general store and then a farm equipment dealership. Both of Sessions’ parents were of primarilyEnglish ancestry. 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 Camden, Sessions studied at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969. He was active in the Young Republicans and was student body president there. Sessions attended the University of Alabama School of Law and graduated with his J.D. in 1973.
Sessions and his wife Mary have three grown children, Mary Abigail, Ruth Walk, and Sam, as well as three grandchildren, Jane Ritchie, Jim Beau and Grace.
Sessions was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama beginning in 1975. In 1981, President 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.
In 1986, Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions was actively backed by Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton, a Republican. A substantial majority of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which rates nominees to the federal bench, rated Sessions “qualified,” with a minority voting that Sessions was “not qualified.”
At 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 (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
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 denying 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 and bigotry.” 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 “un-American”, 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 June 5, 1986, the Committee voted 10-8 against recommending the nomination to the Senate floor, with Republican Senators Charles Mathias of Maryland and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voting 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.
One law clerk from the U.S. District Court in Mobile who had worked with Sessions later acknowledged the confirmation controversy, but stated that he observed Sessions as “a lawyer of the highest ethical and intellectual standards.”
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.”
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 53%-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.
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 is the ranking Republican member on the Senate Budget Committee, a former ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Sessions was a supporter of the “nuclear option,” a tactic considered 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 reached an agreement to allow filibusters under “extraordinary circumstances,” Sessions accepted the agreement but argued that “a return to the tradition of up-or-down votes on all judicial nominees would… strengthen the Senate.”
In 2005, Sessions spoke at a rally in Washington, D.C. in favor of the War in Iraq that was held in opposition to an anti-war protest held the day before. Sessions said of the anti-war protesters: “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 legislation to increase the death gratuity benefit for families of servicemembers 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. He is a supporter of E-Verify, the federal database that allows businesses to electronically verify the immigration status of potential new hires, and has advocated for expanded construction of a Southern border fence.
Sessions voted for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act in committee, which would allow the Attorney General to ask a court to issue a restraining order Internet domain names that host copyright-infringing material.
In 2006, Sessions received the “Guardian of Small Business” award from the National Federation of Independent Business.
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.”
Sessions opposed the $837 billion stimulus bill, calling it “the largest spending bill in the history of the republic.” He also expressed skepticism about the $447 billion jobs bill recently proposed by President Obama, and disputed the notion that the bill would be paid for and not add to the national debt.
Sessions has been an opponent of same-sex marriage and has earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, the United States’ largest LGBT Advocacy group, for the 108th, 109th, and 110th Congress. He voted against the Matthew Shepard Act, which added acts of bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crimes law, and a congressional resolution calling on members of the Ugandan Parliament to reject the proposed “Kill-the-Gays Bill.” Sessions voted in favor of advancing the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006.
His website states that he believes that “a marriage is union between a man and women.” On December 18, 2010, Sessions voted against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.
Sessions has also said regarding the appointment of a gay Supreme Court justice, “I do not think that a person who acknowledges that they have gay tendencies is disqualified, per se, for the job” but that “it would be a big concern that the American people might feel uneasy about.”
Sessions opposed President Barack Obama’s health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
Sessions is a proponent of nuclear power, and has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
While serving as the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee in the 110th Congress, Sessions was the senior Republican who questioned Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack 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 five Republican colleagues in voting against Sotomayor’s nomination in the Judiciary Committee. 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 also served as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee during the nomination process for Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens. Sessions based his opposition on the nominee’s lack of experience, her background as a political operative (Kagan had said that she worked in the Clinton White House not as a lawyer but as a policy adviser), and her record on guns,abortion, and gay rights. Sessions pointed out that Kagan “has a very thin record legally, never tried a case, never argued before a jury, only had her first appearance in the appellate courts a year ago.”
Sessions focused the majority of his criticism on Kagan’s treatment of the military while she was dean of Harvard Law School. During her tenure, Kagan reinstated the practice of requiring military recruiters to coordinate their activities through a campus veterans organization, rather than the school’s Office of Career Services. Kagan argued that she was trying to comply with a law known as the Solomon Amendment, which barred federal funds from any college or university that did not grant military recruiters equal access to campus facilities. Sessions asserted that Kagan’s action was a violation of the Solomon Amendment and that it amounted to “demeaning and punishing the military. He also argued that her action showed a willingness to place her politics above the law.
On July 20, 2010, Sessions and five Republican colleagues voted against Kagan’s nomination. Despite this, the Judiciary Committee approved the nomination by a 13-6 vote. Sessions also voted against Kagan in the full Senate vote, joining 36 other senators (including one Democrat) in opposition. 63 senators voted to confirm Kagan. Following the vote, Sessions remarked on future nominations and elections, saying that Americans would “not forgive the Senate if we further expose our Constitution to revision and rewrite by judicial fiat to advance what President Obama says is a broader vision of what America should be.”
Sessions is pro-life and was one of 37 Senators to vote against funding for embryonic stem cell research.
During his career, his largest donors have come from the legal, health, real estate and insurance industries. From 2005 to 2010, the corporations employing donors who gave the most to his campaign were the Southern Company utility firm, Balch & Bingham law firm, Harbert Managementinvestment firm, Drummond Company coal mining firm, and WPP Group, a UK-based communications services company.