|United States Senator
January 3, 1997
Serving with Richard Shelby
|Preceded by||Howell Heflin|
|44th Attorney General of Alabama|
January 16, 1995 – January 3, 1997
|Preceded by||Jimmy Evans|
|Succeeded by||Bill Pryor|
|United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama|
|Appointed by||Ronald Reagan|
|Preceded by||William Kimbrough, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Don Foster|
|Born||Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III
December 24, 1946
Selma, Alabama, U.S.
|Alma mater||Huntingdon College (BA)
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (JD)
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1973–1977|
|Unit||1184th United States Army Transportation Terminal Unit
United States Army Reserve
From 1981 to 1993 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in 1994, and to the U.S. Senate in 1996, being re-elected in 2002, 2008, and 2014. 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. As a senator, he is noted for his opposition to illegal immigration and advocacy of reducing legal immigration. He supported the major legislative efforts of the George W. Bush administration, including the 2001 and 2003 tax cut packages, the Iraq War, and a proposed national amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He opposed the establishment of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the 2009 stimulus bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act. As the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he opposed all three of President Barack Obama's nominees for the Supreme Court.
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. On November 18, 2016 it was announced that President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate Sessions for Attorney General of the United States when he takes office.
- 1 Personal life and education
- 2 Political career
- 3 Political positions
- 4 Political contributors
- 5 Committee assignments
- 6 Electoral history
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 External links
Personal life and education
Sessions was born in Selma, Alabama, on December 24, 1946, the son of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions Jr., and the former Abbie Powe. His father owned a general store in Hybart, Alabama, and then a farm equipment dealership. Both of Sessions' parents were of primarily English ancestry, with some Scots-Irish. In 1964, Sessions became an Eagle Scout and earned the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.
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. Sessions attended the University of Alabama School of Law and graduated with his J.D. in 1973.
Sessions and his wife Mary have three children and six grandchildren. Sessions is a Sunday school teacher at the Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, where he and his wife are members.
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.
Sessions' 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. Session'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. The prosecution stirred charges of selective prosecution of Black voter registration and was based on no more than 14 tampered ballots. The defendants, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted by a jury after three hours deliberation. Interviewed by the Washington Post, historian Wayne Flynt noted legitimate concerns about tactics employed by black officeholders and Turner in particular, 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.”
Failed nomination to the district court
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' 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 he considered it a joke. 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.
Figures also said that Sessions had called him "boy," which Sessions denied. Figures also 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.'" In 1992, Figures was charged with attempting to bribe a witness by offering a $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".
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, 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' 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."
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, 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 schools funding model ultimately found 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. 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' judicial confirmation hearing) to win a third term. Sessions received 63 percent of the vote to Figures' 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 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.
2016 presidential election
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. 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. 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.
Attorney General nominee
Sessions has been the leading congressional opponent of illegal immigration and proponent of reducing legal immigration. He led the fight in the Senate against the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 and Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. He says 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 claimed that an opt-out provision in immigration legislation before Congress would allow Sec. Janet Napolitano to skip building a border fence. PolitiFact called the claim "False," stating that the provision would allow Napolitano to determine where the fence was built, but not opt out of building it entirely.
Foreign and military policy
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 US military from engaging in torture; the amendment passed 90-9.
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.
Sessions was one of only 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."
Crime and security
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.
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.
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.
Higher education and research
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."
As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions worked to prohibit the recognition and funding of student Gay-Straight Alliances at The University of Alabama, Auburn University and The University of South Alabama, stating "an organization that professes to be comprised of homosexuals and/or lesbians may not receive state funding or use state-supported facilities to foster or promote those illegal, sexually deviate activities defined in the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws."  And that "the State of Alabama will experience irreparable harm by funding a conference and activities in violation of state law." The U.S. District court ruled against these actions as a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution in Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance v. Sessions, 917 F. Supp. 1548 (1996)
Sessions has been an opponent of same-sex marriage and has 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 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 claimed 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."
Health care reform
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.
Energy and environment
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.
Supreme Court nominations
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."
Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, Sessions refused to consider any nominee for the position. Sessions maintained his opposition after President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit judge Merrick Garland, joining other Republican Senators in delaying a Supreme Court hearing until the inauguration of a new president.
On December 11, 2013, Sessions cosponsored the Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S. 1799; 113th Congress), 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."
During his career, Sessions' 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 Management investment firm, Drummond Company coal mining firm, and WPP Group, a UK-based communications services company.
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on the Budget 
- Committee on Environment and Public Works
- Committee on the Judiciary
- International Narcotics Control Caucus
|Republican||Jeff Sessions (incumbent)||795,606||97.25|
|Alabama U.S. Senate Republican primary election, 2008|
|Republican||Jeff Sessions*||1,305,383||63.36||+ 4.78|
|Democratic||Vivian Davis Figures||752,391||36.52|
|Republican||Jeff Sessions*||792,561||58.58||+ 6.13|
|Alabama U.S. Senate Republican primary election, 1996|
|Republican||Walter D. Clark||18,745||8.60|
|Alabama U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff election, 1996|
|Natural Law||Charles R. Hebner||9,123||0.61|
|Alabama Attorney General election, 1994|
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Senator Sessions and his wife Mary Blackshear Sessions (also a native of Alabama) are members of the Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile. He serves as a lay leader and Sunday school teacher there.
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This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website http://bioguide.congress.gov.
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- Senator Jeff Sessions official U.S. Senate site
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- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
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|Attorney General of Alabama
|Party political offices|
|Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Alabama
1996, 2002, 2008, 2014
|United States Senate|
|U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: Richard Shelby
|United States order of precedence (ceremonial)|
|United States Senators by seniority