AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

In his own words, Jeff Sessions on making America great, again

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama has consistently ranked as one of the most conservative lawmakers in Washington, based on his opposition to illegal (and, sometimes, legal) immigration, liberalization of marijuana laws and most federal sentencing reforms. Now that President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Sessions as attorney general, those views are likely to come under scrutiny during Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday and Wednesday.

Related: For Trump's AG nominee Sessions, race is the great battle not fought

Here is a sampling of Sessions' remarks on several controversial topics.


In June 2016, Sessions reacted to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively overturned President Barack Obama’s executive action delaying deportation of certain undocumented immigrants.

“We are always going to have immigration, but the level of it and the nature of it should be such that we admit people who are most likely to be successful, to flourish and to benefit America, and not people who are going to have a hard time, who don’t speak English and don’t have the skills that we need in this country today.”

Sessions had made similar points the previous year.

“We need immigration reform, all right, but reform that serves the interests of the American people – not international corporations, not anti-enforcement zealots, not the open-borders lobby.”

The Judiciary

Sessions gave a Senate speech in 2016 eulogizing Antonin Scalia, “one of the greatest justices ever to sit on the Supreme Court.” He began by speaking disapprovingly of judicial “activism,” a trend that began when he was a young lawyer.

“Judges were praised if they advanced the law. … What that really means is you change it. If you advance it, it means the legislature hadn’t passed something that you would like, or the Constitution doesn’t advance an idea that you like, then you figure out a way to reinterpret the meaning of the words so it says what you would like it to say and what you wished the legislature had passed. … Judges need to know they are given independence and a lifetime appointment because we trust them to serve under the Constitution and not above it.”

 Legalizing Marijuana

In 2015, Sessions was speaking about a bill to withhold federal funding from cities that offer “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants. But he digressed to express his displeasure with the trend toward liberalizing marijuana laws.

“Now we have states legalizing it, and they are already talking about decriminalizing it. It is a mistake. We have seen that experiment before. Lives are not at stake.”

Voting Rights

Sessions voted in the majority in 2006 for a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act – but complained that Alabama and other Southern states were not getting credit for lessening official discrimination.

“I am worried because [the extension] does little to acknowledge the tremendous progress made over the last 40 years in Alabama and other covered jurisdictions. Today is not 1965, and the situation with respect to voting rights in Alabama and other covered jurisdictions is dramatically different from 1965. I would have expected Congress to recognize this tremendous progress.”

Six years later, Sessions spoke about guarding against voter fraud during a confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate Eric Holder.

"I do believe we have voter fraud in America. And if you do not have voter ID, I would observe that somebody can walk in to a voting place where they know there is a registered person on the rolls, who was not a citizen, not alive, or in another state and just say they are John Jones and vote for that person."

 Islamic Extremism

Sessions received the “Keeper of the Flame” award from the Center for Security Policy in 2015. The center has equated the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the terrorist group Hamas and published material claiming Sharia law is spreading in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the organization an anti-Muslim extremist group. In an acceptance speech, Sessions called the Middle East “a spasm of extremism bursting out.”

“It’s happened various times throughout the history of Islam. Most of the people are good and decent people, they’re not violent, they don’t want to cause trouble and they’re not trying to attack people who don’t agree with them. But there is within that community a significant number that believes the Quran calls for this, justifies it in their minds and they are aggressive in their worldview.”

Women's Issues

Sessions was one of 22 Republican senators who voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013. Backers said the legislation would combat domestic violence and human trafficking. It also expanded protections for Native Americans and LGBT people. Sessions complained about provisions inserted into the measure.

"There are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition. You think that's possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn't support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?"

 Race Relations

President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to the U.S. District Court for southern Alabama in 1986, but questions about his attitudes on racial issues led to his rejection by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions testified he was "mortified" to think anyone considered him a racist.

"In my opinion, there is probably no more sensitive area than race relations. I feel like I am one of the good guys. I feel like that I am being caricatured in a way that is not true."

George Wallace

After George Wallace, the former segregationist governor of Alabama, died in 1998, Sessions gave a statement to The Associated Press.

"He'll be remembered as one of the most formidable third-party candidates in this century, as a person who challenged the liberal elite in America."


Related story: How Jeff Sessions' views on federal special education law might affect a Georgia case

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