An early supporter of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Sessions was considered as a possible vice presidential nominee, but Indiana Governor Mike Pence was ultimately selected for the ticket. In November 2016, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Sessions for the post of US Attorney General. He was confirmed on February 8, 2017, with a 52–47 vote in the Senate, and was sworn in on February 9.
In his Attorney General confirmation hearings, Sessions stated, while under oath, that he did not have contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign. In March 2017, news reports revealed that Sessions had twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016. Sessions subsequently recused himself from any investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, while some Democratic lawmakers called for his resignation.
He was born in Selma, Alabama, on December 24, 1946, the son of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Jr., and the former Abbie Powe. He was named after his father, who was named after his grandfather, who was named after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, and P. G. T. Beauregard, the Confederate general who oversaw the bombardment of Fort Sumter, starting the American Civil War. His father owned a general store in Hybart, Alabama, and then a farm equipment dealership. Both of Sessions's parents were of primarily English ancestry, with some Scots-Irish. In 1964, Sessions became an Eagle Scout, and later, he earned the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award for his many years of service.
After attending Wilcox County High School in nearby Camden, Sessions studied at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1969. He was active in the Young Republicans and was student body president. Sessions attended the University of Alabama School of Law and graduated with a J.D. degree in 1973.
Sessions entered private practice in Russellville and later in Mobile. He also served in the Army Reserve in the 1970s with the rank of captain.
Sessions was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama beginning in 1975. In 1981, President Reagan nominated him to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. The Senate confirmed him and he held that position for 12 years until Bill Clinton's Attorney General, Janet Reno, asked for his resignation.
Sessions's office filed civil rights charges in the 1981 killing of Michael Donald, a young African-American man who was murdered in Mobile, Alabama by a pair of Ku Klux Klan members. Sessions's office did not prosecute the case, but both men were arrested and convicted.
In 1985, Sessions prosecuted three African American community organizers in the Black Belt of Alabama, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s former aide Albert Turner, for voter fraud, alleging tampering with 14 absentee ballots. The prosecution stirred charges of selective prosecution of black voter registration. The defendants, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted of all charges by a jury after three hours of deliberation. Historian Wayne Flynt told The Washington Post he regarded concerns about tactics employed in the 1984 election and by Turner in particular as legitimate, but also noted Sessions had no history of advocating for black voter rights before 1984. Interviewed in 2009, Sessions said he remained convinced that he did the right thing, but admitted he "failed to make the case".
In 1986, Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions's judicial nomination was recommended and actively backed by Republican Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton. 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". His nomination was opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and People for the American Way.
At Sessions's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, four Department of Justice lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he made racially offensive remarks. 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" (Sessions said he was referring to their support of the Sandinistas) and that they did more harm than good by trying to force civil rights "down the throats of people". Hebert, a civil rights lawyer, said that he did not consider Sessions a racist, and that Sessions "has a tendency sometimes to just say something, and I believe these comments were along that vein". Hebert also said that Sessions had called a white civil rights attorney "maybe" a "disgrace to his race". Sessions said he did not recall making that remark and he did not believe it.
Thomas Figures, a black Assistant U.S. Attorney, testified that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was "OK until I found out they smoked pot". Sessions later said that the comment was not serious, but did apologize for it, saying that he considered the Klan to be "a force for hatred and bigotry". Barry Kowalski, a prosecutor in the civil rights division, also heard the remark and testified that prosecutors working such a gruesome case sometimes "resort to operating room humor and that is what I considered it to be". Another DOJ lawyer, Albert Glenn, said, "It never occurred to me that there was any seriousness to it." Figures 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. Kowalski, however, testified that he believed "[Sessions] was eager to see that justice was done in the area of criminal civil rights prosecutions."
Figures also said that Sessions had called him "boy", which Sessions denied. Figures testified that two assistant prosecutors had also heard Sessions, including current federal judge Ginny Granade. Granade denied this. He also testified that "Mr. Sessions admonished me to 'be careful what you say to white folks'." Sessions denied this. In 1992, Figures was charged with attempting to bribe a witness by offering $50,000 to a convicted drug dealer who was to testify against his client. Figures claimed the charge was retaliation for his role in blocking the Sessions nomination. Sessions denied this, saying that he recused himself from the case. Figures was ultimately acquitted.
Hebert, Kowalski and Daniel Bell, deputy chief of the criminal section in the Civil Rights Division, testified that they considered Sessions to have been more welcoming to the work of the Civil Rights Division than many other Southern US Attorneys at the time. Sessions has always defended his civil rights record, 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". Critics later argued that Sessions had exaggerated his involvement in civil rights cases. Michigan Law professor Samuel Bagenstos, reviewing Sessions's claims, argued that "[a]ll this shows is that Sessions didn't completely refuse to participate in or have his name on pleadings in cases that the civil rights division brought during his tenure ... These four cases are awfully weak evidence of Sessions's supposed commitment to civil rights."
Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose the nomination. In her letter, she wrote that "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters."
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's nomination to the Senate floor with no recommendation, this time with Specter in support. A majority was required for the nomination to proceed. The pivotal votes against Sessions came from his home state's 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's 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. He was quoted then as saying that the Senate on occasion had been insensitive to the rights and reputation of nominees. A 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".
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's nomination was a mistake, because he had "since found that Sen. Sessions is egalitarian".
Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in November 1994, unseating incumbent Democrat Jimmy Evans with 57% of the vote. The harsh criticism he had received from Senator Edward Kennedy, who called him a "throw-back to a shameful era" and a "disgrace", was considered to have won him the support of Alabama conservatives. As Attorney-General, Sessions led the state's defense of a school funding model which was ultimately found to be unconstitutional because of disparities between rich, mostly white, and poor, mostly black, schools.
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 Howell Heflin, who had retired after 18 years in the Senate. That same year, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance sued the state of Alabama after the Alabama Legislature attempted to deny funding to student organizations that advocated on behalf of homosexuality at public universities. As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions defended the state, arguing that funding should not be provided to student groups that advocated unlawful behavior, including the breaking of sodomy and sexual misconduct laws. Sessions also argued that "the State of Alabama will experience irreparable harm by funding a conference and activities in violation of state law". A U.S. District court ultimately ruled the law unconstitutional in Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance v. Sessions, 917 F. Supp. 1548 (1996).
In 2002, Sessions won reelection by defeating Democratic State Auditor Susan Parker. In 2008, Sessions defeated Democratic State Senator Vivian Davis Figures (sister-in-law of Thomas Figures, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who testified at Sessions's judicial confirmation hearing) to win a third term. Sessions received 63 percent of the vote to Figures's 37 percent. Sessions successfully sought a fourth term in 2014 and was uncontested in both the Republican primary and the general election.
Sessions was only the second freshman Republican senator from Alabama since Reconstruction and gave Alabama two Republican senators, a first since Reconstruction. He was easily reelected in 2002, becoming the first Republican reelected to the Senate from Alabama since Reconstruction (given that his colleague Richard Shelby, who won reelection as a Republican in 1998, had previously run as a Democrat, switching parties in 1994).
Sessions was 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 served on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, between 1995 and 2016, Sessions's largest donors came from the legal, retired, health, real estate, and insurance industries. From 1995 to 2016, the corporations employing donors who gave the most to his campaign were the Southern Company utility firm, Balch & Bingham law firm, Drummond Company coal mining firm, Collazo Enterprises, and Vulcan Materials.Committee on Armed Services
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Sessions was an early supporter of the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, and was a major policy adviser to the Trump campaign, especially in regard to immigration and national security. Uncorroborated Russian communications intercepted by U.S. Intelligence agencies discuss Ambassador Sergey Kislyak meeting privately with Sessions at the Mayflower Hotel during a Trump campaign event in April 2016. Sessions donned a "Make America Great Again" cap at a Trump rally in August 2015, and Stephen Miller, Sessions's longtime-communications director, joined the Trump campaign. On February 28, 2016, Sessions officially endorsed Donald Trump for president. Sessions's and Rudy Giuliani's appearance was a staple at Trump campaign rallies. The Trump campaign considered Sessions for the position of running mate, and Sessions was widely seen as a potential Cabinet secretary in a Trump administration.
During the transition, Sessions played a large role in appointments and policy preparation relative to space, NASA and related facilities in Alabama, while Peter Thiel advocated for private spaceflight.
President-elect Trump announced on November 18, 2016, that he would nominate Sessions to be Attorney General of the United States. The nomination engendered support and opposition from various groups and individuals. He was introduced by Senator Susan Collins from Maine who said, "He's a decent individual with a strong commitment to the rule of law. He's a leader of integrity. I think the attacks against him are not well founded and are unfair." More than 1,400 law school professors wrote a letter urging the Senate to reject the nomination. A group of black pastors rallied in support of Sessions in advance of his confirmation hearing, and his nomination was supported by Gerald A. Reynolds, an African-American former chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Six NAACP activists, including NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, were arrested at a January 2017 sit-in protesting the nomination.
On January 10, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on his nomination began and were interrupted by protesters. The committee approved his nomination February 1 on an 11 to 9 party-line vote. The nomination then went to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. The vote on Sessions was delayed until after the vote on Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, because his confirmation – and subsequent resignation from the Senate – would create a temporary vacancy, which otherwise would have jeopardized DeVos's narrow confirmation. On February 7, 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped Senator Elizabeth Warren from reading statements opposing Sessions's nomination as federal judge that had been made by Ted Kennedy and Coretta Scott King. Warren was then officially rebuked per Senate Rule XIX on a party-line vote for "impugning a fellow senator's character". A few hours later Senator Jeff Merkley read without interruption the same letter by King that Warren had attempted to read.
On February 8, 2017, Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General by a vote of 52 to 47.
On March 10, 2017, Sessions oversaw the firing of 46 United States Attorneys, leaving only his acting Deputy Dana Boente and nominated Deputy Rod Rosenstein in place after Trump declined their resignations.
On April 10, 2017, Sessions disbanded the National Commission on Forensic Science and ended the Department's review of the forensic accuracy in closed cases.
Sessions imposed a hiring freeze on most of the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division and U.S. Attorneys' offices, and a total freeze on the Department's Fraud Section. On April 24, 2017, Sessions traveled to an ethics lawyers conference to assure them the Department would continue prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, regardless of President Trump's comments that it is a "horrible law" and "the world is laughing at us".
On May 9, 2017, Sessions delivered a memo to the President recommending Trump fire FBI Director James Comey, attaching a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein which called the Director's behavior indefensible. Trump fired Comey that day. In March 2017, Sessions had recused himself from investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Comey was leading the investigations prior to his dismissal.
In May 2017, Sessions offered to resign after receiving criticism from President Trump, who then did not accept the resignation.
On June 5, 2017, Sessions issued a memo preventing the Justice Department's future lawsuit settlements from including funding for third-parties, such as had been included for the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
During Sessions's Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on January 10, Senator Al Franken asked him what he would do as Attorney General "if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign". Franken was referring to a news report alleging that Russia had compromising material on Trump and Trump surrogates were in contact with the Russian government. Sessions replied that he was "not aware of any of those activities" and said "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have—did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it." In his January 17 responses to written questions presented by Senator Patrick Leahy, Sessions stated that he had not been "in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election".
On March 1, 2017, Sessions came under scrutiny after reports surfaced that he had contact with Russian government officials during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, even though during his confirmation hearings he denied he had any discussions with representatives of the Russian government. News reports revealed that Sessions had spoken twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. The first communication took place after a Heritage Foundation event at the 2016 Republican National Convention attended by several ambassadors, including the Russian Ambassador Kislyak who spoke with Senator Sessions. The second interaction took place on September 8, 2016, when they met in Sessions's office; Sessions said they discussed Ukraine and terrorism. Sessions released a statement that day, saying "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false." U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said: "There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign – not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee ... Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors."
Democratic representatives asked Sessions to resign his post as United States Attorney General. Senator Lindsey Graham called for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into the connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. Representative Nancy Pelosi stated that Sessions had "lied under oath" and called for his resignation. Representative Elijah Cummings said that "when Senator Sessions testified under oath that 'I did not have communications with the Russians,' his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks – and he continued to let it stand even as he watched the President tell the entire nation he didn't know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians". Cummings also called for Sessions's resignation. Senator Franken commented that he believes that Sessions perjured himself in his confirmation hearing.
On March 2, Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from any investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. That same day, The Wall Street Journal reported that Sessions's contact with the Russians had been investigated. It was not clear whether the investigation was ongoing.
A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in the first week of March 2017 found that 51% of respondents wanted Sessions to resign. The same poll also found that 66% of respondents wanted an independent investigation into the connections between Donald Trump's campaign and the Russian government.
On March 20, 2017, FBI Director James Comey testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee that since July 2016, the FBI has been conducting a counter-intelligence investigation to assess the extent of Russia's interference into the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump associates played a role in Russia's efforts. In May 2017 the Justice Department reported that Sessions had failed to disclose meetings with Russian officials during the presidential campaign in 2016, when he applied for his security clearance. According to Department of Justice spokesman Ian Prior, his "staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the F.B.I. investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities".
On June 8, 2017, now ex-FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he expected Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation two weeks before he did for classified reasons that made his continued engagement in the investigation "problematic". It had been reported days before said testimony that President Trump had been furious at Sessions for his recusal from the investigation, blaming it for the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.
On June 13, 2017, Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee after canceling testimonies before the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. Sessions rejected reports he had met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during Trump's April 2016 speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., testifying that he could not remember if he did or did not have a "brief interaction" with the ambassador. Accused of "stonewalling" by Senator Ron Wyden, Sessions discussed the executive privilege power, and said that he was refusing to answer questions about his conversations with Trump because "I am protecting the President's right to assert it if he chooses." He is being advised by his personal lawyer Charles J. Cooper.
In July 2017 The Washington Post reported that Kislyak, in communications intercepted by U.S. intelligence, had told his superiors in Moscow that his conversations with Sessions had concerned Trump's campaign as well as "Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues". Previously, after initially denying having met with Kisylak at all, Sessions had repeatedly asserted that in his meetings with the Russian ambassador he never discussed the campaign and only met with him in his capacity as a U.S. senator. If the new report is accurate it could contradict Sessions's sworn testimony. The Department of Justice responded by saying that Sessions stands by his testimony that he "never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election".
On April 3, 2017, Sessions announced that he was going to review consent decrees in which local law enforcement agencies had agreed to Department oversight. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar then denied Sessions's request to delay a new consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department.
On May 12, 2017, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to begin seeking the greatest criminal charges possible. The new guidelines rescinded a memo by Attorney General Eric Holder that had sought to reduce mass incarceration by avoiding mandatory sentencing.
On July 19, 2017, Sessions signed an order reviving federally adopted civil asset forfeiture, which allows local law enforcement to bypass state limitations on seizing the property of those suspected but not charged of crimes.
On March 27, 2017, Sessions told reporters that sanctuary cities failing to comply with policies of the Trump administration would lose federal funding, and cited the shooting of Kathryn Steinle as an example of an illegal immigrant committing a heinous crime.
On April 11, 2017 Sessions issued a memo for federal attorneys to consider prosecuting anyone harboring an illegal immigrant. On the same day, while at an entry border port in Nogales, Arizona, Sessions insisted the new administration would implement policies against those continuing "to seek improper and illegal entry into this country". On April 21, nine sanctuary cities were sent letters by the Justice Department giving them a deadline of June 30 to provide an explanation of how their policies were not in violation of the law, and Sessions hours later warned "enough is enough" in San Diego amid his tour of the U.S.-Mexico border. Two days later, Sessions said that reducing false tax credits given to "mostly Mexicans" could pay for the U.S.-Mexico border and it would be paid for "one way or the other".
In April 2017, while on a radio talk show, Sessions said that he was "amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power". This was in reference to Derrick Watson, a judge for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, blocking an executive order by President Donald Trump. After receiving criticism for the remark, Sessions said there is nothing he "would want to phrase differently" and that he "wasn't criticizing the judge or the island".
In a May 2017 letter, Sessions personally asked congressional leaders to repeal the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment so that the Justice Department can prosecute providers of medical marijuana. The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment is a 2014 measure that bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." Sessions wrote in the letter that "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." John Hudak of the Brookings Institution criticized the letter, stating that it was a "scare tactic" that "should make everyone openly question whether candidate Trump's rhetoric and the White House's words on his support for medical marijuana was actually a lie to the American public on an issue that garners broad, bipartisan support."
Sessions called the fatal vehicle-ramming attack at the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, domestic terrorism and started a civil rights investigation into the attack to determine if it will be tried in court as a hate crime. Sessions said "You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America."
During his tenure, Sessions was considered one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate.
Sessions was an opponent of legal and illegal immigration during his time in Congress. He opposed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 and the bi-partisan Gang of Eight's Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. He said that a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants undermines the rule of law, that the inflow of guest workers and immigrants depresses wages and raises unemployment for United States citizens, and that current immigration policy expands an underclass dependent on the welfare state. In a May 2006 floor speech, he said, "Fundamentally, almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming because they have a skill that would benefit us and that would indicate their likely success in our society." 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. In 2013, Sessions said that an opt-out provision in immigration legislation before Congress would allow Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to avoid building a border fence. PolitiFact called Session's statement "False", stating that the provision would allow Napolitano to determine where the fence was built, but not opt out of building it entirely.
Sessions's Senate website expressed his view that there is a "clear nexus between immigration and terrorism" and that "Plainly, there is no way to vet these refugees" who would immigrate to the U.S. from Syria in 2016 or who came to the U.S. after September 11, 2001 and were alleged to be involved in terrorism. The news release said that "the absence of derogatory information in our systems about an individual does not mean that admitting that individual carries no risk". Sessions has expressed the view that the children of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries are "susceptible to the toxic radicalization of terrorist organizations" on the basis of the Orlando and San Bernardino Attacks. Sessions supported establishing safe zones as an alternative to immigration from war-torn countries.
Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon talked about Jeff Sessions as the leader of the movement for slowing down both legal and illegal immigration before Donald Trump came to the scene, considering his work to kill immigration reform as akin "to the civil rights movement of 1960". Sessions and his communications director Stephen Miller developed what Miller describes as "nation-state populism" as a response to globalization and immigration.
Immigration is the issue that brought Sessions and Trump together. Trump has credited Sessions as an influential advisor on immigration. After Trump was elected and announced Sessions as his Attorney General nominee, Cato Institute immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh observed "It's almost as if Sessions wrote Trump's immigration platform."
In 2005, Sessions spoke at a rally in Washington, D.C. in favor of the War in Iraq organized 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." The same year, he opposed legislation by Senator John McCain prohibiting the U.S. military from engaging in torture; the amendment passed 90–9.
Sessions opposed the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the NATO intervention in Libya, and arming the Syrian rebels. As Attorney General, he reportedly advised President Trump against increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
In the 109th Congress, Sessions introduced legislation to increase the death gratuity benefit for families of service members 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's legislation was accepted in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005.
In June 2014, Sessions was one of three senators to vote against additional funding for the VA medical system. He opposed the bill due to cost concerns and indicated that Congress should instead focus on "reforms and solutions that improve the quality of service and the effectiveness that is delivered".
In 1996, Sessions promoted state legislation in Alabama that sought to punish a second drug trafficking conviction, including for dealing marijuana, with a mandatory minimum death sentence. Sessions's views on drugs and crime have since softened.
Sessions supported the reduction (but not the elimination) of the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine, ultimately passed into law with the Fair Sentencing Act 2010.
On October 5, 2005, Sessions 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.
In November 2010, Sessions was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the committee voted unanimously in favor of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), and sent the bill to the full Senate for consideration. The proposed law would allow the Attorney General to ask a court to issue a restraining order on Internet domain names that host copyright-infringing material.
In October 2015, Sessions opposed Chairman Chuck Grassley's (R-IA) Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bipartisan bill which sought to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent crimes. The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary approved the bill by a vote of 15–5. According to The New York Times, Sessions, Tom Cotton, and David Perdue "stalled the bill in the Senate and sapped momentum from a simultaneous House effort". Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a co-sponsor of the bill, has said Sessions was its top opponent.
Sessions has been a strong supporter of civil forfeiture, the government practice of seizing property when it has allegedly been involved in a crime. Sessions opposes "any reform" of civil forfeiture legislation.
Sessions voted for the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, and said he would vote to make them permanent if given the chance. He is a signer of Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
In 2006, Sessions received the "Guardian of Small Business" award from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), an honor that the organization bestows upon legislators who vote in accord with its stance on small business issues at least 70% of the time. He was recognized by the NFIB again in 2008 and 2010; in 2014 the organization endorsed him in his run for a fourth term, noting that he had achieved a 100% NFIB voting record on key issues for small businesses in the 112th Congress.
Sessions was one of 29 senators who voted for an amendment to the 2008 budget resolution, offered by Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, that 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".
Sessions opposed the $837 billion stimulus bill, calling it "the largest spending bill in the history of the republic". In late 2011 he also expressed skepticism about the $447 billion jobs bill proposed by President Obama, and disputed the notion that the bill would be paid for without adding to the national debt.
In 2013, Sessions sent a letter to National Endowment for the Humanities enquiring why the foundation funded projects that he deemed frivolous. He also criticized the foundation for distributing books related to Islam to hundreds of U.S. libraries, saying "Using taxpayer dollars to fund education program grant questions that are very indefinite or in an effort to seemingly use Federal funds on behalf of just one religion, does not on its face appear to be the appropriate means to establish confidence in the American people that NEH expenditures are wise."
In the 114th United States Congress, Sessions earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, the United States' largest LGBTQ advocacy group. 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, commenting that it "has been said to cheapen the civil rights movement". Sessions "believes that a marriage is union between a man and a woman, and has routinely criticized the U.S. Supreme Court and activist lower courts when they try to judicially redefine marriage". Sessions voted in favor of advancing the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, a U.S. constitutional amendment which would have permanently restricted federal recognition of marriages to those between a man and a woman. 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 would be a big concern that the American people might feel—might feel uneasy about that".
Sessions is against legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use. "I'm a big fan of the DEA", he said during a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions was "heartbroken" and found "it beyond comprehension" when President Obama said that cannabis is not as dangerous as alcohol. In April 2016, he said that it was important to foster "knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about ... and to send that message with clarity that good people don't smoke marijuana".
Sessions believes "that sanctity of life begins at conception".
Sessions was one of 34 Senators to vote against the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which was vetoed by President Bush and would have provided funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
In 2006, Sessions coauthored legislation amending the Ryan White CARE Act to increase the share of HIV/AIDS funding going to rural states, including Alabama.
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.
Following Senator Ted Cruz's 21-hour speech opposing the Affordable Care Act in 2013, Sessions joined Cruz and 17 other Senators in a failed vote against cloture on a comprehensive government funding bill that would have continued funding healthcare reform.
Sessions is skeptical of the scientific consensus on climate change. He has voted in favor of legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. He has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The League of Conservation Voters, a pro-environment advocacy group, gave him a lifetime score of 7%. Sessions is a proponent of nuclear power.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions defended unsuccessful circuit court nominee Charles W. Pickering against allegations of racism, saying he was "a leader for racial harmony". Sessions rejected criticisms of successful circuit court nominee Dennis Shedd's record, saying he "should have been commended for the rulings he has made". In 2003, Sessions viewed criticisms of Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr.'s ultimately successful circuit court appointment as being due to his faith, stating that "Are we not saying that good Catholics need not apply?"
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 (or, "talking a bill to death") 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".
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, and questioned "whether she had the intellectual honesty, the clarity of mind, that you would expect on the Supreme Court".
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".
In March 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sessions said the "Senate should not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until a new president is elected".
In 1999, Sessions cosponsored the bill to award Rosa Parks the Congressional Gold Medal.
On December 11, 2013, Sessions cosponsored the Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act of 2013, a bill that would reauthorize the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 and would authorize funding through 2018 to help child abuse victims. Sessions argued that "there is no higher duty than protecting our nation's children, and this bill is an important step to ensure the most vulnerable children receive the care and support they deserve".
He and his wife Mary have three children and six grandchildren. The family is United Methodist. Sessions is a Sunday school teacher at the Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, where he and his wife are members. He served as the chairman of his church's administrative board and has been selected as a delegate to the annual Alabama Methodist Conference.2014