December 8, 2016

Senator Sessions: A Record of Integrity

  • Senator Sessions had a distinguished legal career before being elected to the Senate.
  • His Senate record shows his abiding commitment to equality and fairness under the law.
  • The nation’s leading law enforcement groups strongly support his nomination to serve as the 84th United States attorney general, citing his steadfast commitment to the rule of law.

Background and Family

Senator Jeff Sessions is serving his fourth term as United States Senator from Alabama. He was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1946 and raised in the small town of Hybart, where his father owned a small country store. Senator Sessions attended public schools and was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1969, and taught elementary school in Montgomery. He received his law degree from the University of Alabama in 1973 and served in the Army Reserve from 1973 to 1986, attaining the rank of captain.

Senator Sessions is married to Mary Blackshear Sessions. They have three children and 10 grandchildren.

Equal treatment under the law is a fundamental pillar upon which our republic rests.”– Sen. Jeff Sessions, 04-19-1999

Pre-Senate Legal Career

Senator Sessions had a long and distinguished legal career prior to his Senate service. He began in private practice in Russellville and Mobile, Alabama. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1975 to 1977, where he tried cases in federal court. Beginning in 1981, he served with distinction for 12 years as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. 

As U.S. attorney, he personally prosecuted a number of high-level public corruption cases against bankers, judges, attorneys, and school board officials. He supervised or coordinated other major prosecutions and civil rights cases involving county and city commissioners, large international and nation-wide fraud schemes involving millions of dollars, and international drug-smuggling organizations involving tons of marijuana and thousands of pounds of cocaine. He and his office vigorously supported the prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members for the murder of Michael Donald. Later, as attorney general of Alabama, Sessions defended the death sentence of Henry Hayes, the lead defendant in that heinous murder, leading to the execution of the Ku Klux Klan member by the state of Alabama five months after Sessions was sworn in as a United States senator. One writer credited this prosecution with “effectively breaking the back of the KKK in Alabama.”

Senator Sessions also filed and supported key civil rights cases to combat voter suppression and school segregation, and he brought suits to end discriminatory at-large elections for school boards and county commissions.

Senate Career

In his time in the Senate, Senator Sessions has served on a number of committees, including the Judiciary, Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, and Budget Committees. He was ranking member of the Budget Committee during the 112th and 113th Congresses and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee during the 111th Congress.

His Senate record demonstrates his abiding concern for equality and fairness under the law. In leading efforts to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, Senator Sessions stated that “[e]qual treatment under the law is a fundamental pillar upon which our republic rests.” He observed that Congress “should work to strengthen the appreciation for this fundamental governing principle by recognizing those who make extraordinary contributions towards ensuring that all American citizens have the opportunity, regardless of their race, sex, creed, or national origin, to enjoy the freedoms that this country has to offer.” When speaking in favor of the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Senator Sessions noted that although Alabama “had a grim history on voting rights,” the “results of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were some of the best things that ever happened to Alabama.”

Together with Senator Durbin, Senator Sessions led the fight to reduce the sentencing disparity for possessing crack versus possessing powder cocaine, culminating in the 2010 passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. Concerned about racial differences and unjust outcomes in sentencing, Senator Sessions first introduced legislation to diminish this disparity in 2001. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder singled him out for his leadership on this legislation, noting that he is one of the members to whom “particular thanks are due.”

Senator Sessions also teamed up with Senator Ted Kennedy to fight for passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Victims’ advocates called this “the first federal civil law to address sexual abuse in detention.” This “pivotal law,” they noted, has “sparked a dramatic culture change within U.S. prisons and jails” and “stands today as one of the most significant human rights victories in modern U.S. history.”

Widespread Support for Senator Sessions' Nomination

Given his experience and distinguished record, a number of respected people and groups have issued statements strongly supporting Senator Sessions’ nomination to be U.S. attorney general. These include the Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, National Sheriffs’ Association, Federal Law Enforcement Officers’ Association, and the National District Attorneys Association. This support is no surprise. As former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said, Senator Sessions “knows the workings of the Justice Department inside and out” and “understands the mission of the Department and will carry out his duties in a professional, thoughtful, and balanced manner.” 

Past heads of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration also strongly support the nomination of Senator Sessions, noting that his “exemplary record of service in law enforcement demonstrates that he is a protector of civil rights and defender of crime victims.” His nomination has the support of the last four Republican attorneys general, who wrote that “Senator Sessions is superbly qualified by temperament, intellect, and experience, to serve as this nation’s chief law enforcement officer.”

Issue Tag: Senate