John Cornyn

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John Cornyn
John Cornyn.jpg
United States Senator
from Texas
Assumed office
December 2, 2002
Serving with Ted Cruz
Preceded byPhil Gramm
Chair of the Senate Narcotics Caucus
Assumed office
January 3, 2019
Preceded byChuck Grassley
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 2015 – January 3, 2019
LeaderMitch McConnell
Preceded byDick Durbin
Succeeded byJohn Thune
Senate Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 2013 – January 3, 2015
LeaderMitch McConnell
Preceded byJon Kyl
Succeeded byDick Durbin
49th Attorney General of Texas
In office
January 13, 1999 – December 1, 2002
GovernorGeorge W. Bush
Rick Perry
Preceded byDan Morales
Succeeded byGreg Abbott
Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court
In office
January 2, 1991 – October 18, 1997
Preceded byFranklin Spears
Succeeded byDeborah Hankinson
Judge of the Texas 37th Judicial District Court
In office
January 1, 1985 – January 1, 1991
Preceded byRichard Woods
Succeeded byAnn-Marie Aaron
Personal details
Born (1952-02-02) February 2, 1952 (age 67)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Sandy Hansen (m. 1979)
EducationTrinity University (BA)
St. Mary's University, Texas (JD)
University of Virginia (LLM)
WebsiteSenate website

John Cornyn III (born February 2, 1952) is an American politician and attorney serving as the senior United States Senator for Texas since 2002. He served as the Republican Senate Majority Whip for the 114th and 115th Congresses.[1] Cornyn also previously served as Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 2007 to 2011.[2]

Born in Houston, Cornyn is a graduate of Trinity University and St. Mary's University School of Law, and received an LL.M. degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Cornyn was a Judge on Texas' 37th District Court from 1985 to 1991,[3][4] until he was elected an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court, where he served 1991 to 1997. In 1998, Cornyn was elected Attorney General of Texas, serving one term until winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2002. He was re-elected to a second term in 2008 and to a third term in 2014.

Early life, education, and legal career[edit]

Cornyn was born in Houston, the son of Atholene Gale Cornyn (née Danley) and John Cornyn II, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force.[5] While growing up, he attended the American School in Japan after his family moved to Tokyo in 1968, and graduated from there in 1969.[6] He graduated from Trinity University in 1973, where he majored in journalism and was a member of Chi Delta Tau.[7][8] He earned a Juris Doctor from St. Mary's University School of Law in 1977 and an LL.M. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995.[9][10] He was named the St. Mary's Distinguished Law School Graduate in 1994 and a Trinity University Distinguished Alumnus in 2001.[11]

He served in San Antonio for six years as a district judge before being elected as a Republican in 1990 to the Texas Supreme Court, on which he served for seven years.

Attorney General[edit]

1998 election[edit]

In 1998, Cornyn decided to run to become Texas Attorney General. In the March primary, Barry Williamson, Railroad Commissioner, placed first with 38% of the vote but failed to get the 50% threshold necessary to win the Republican nomination. Cornyn, then a state Supreme Court Justice, got second place with 32%.[12] In the April run-off election, Cornyn defeated Williamson 58% to 42%.[13] In the general election, Cornyn defeated Jim Mattox, former attorney general (1983–1991) and U.S. Congressman, with 54% of the vote.[14] In 1998, Senator Cornyn became the first Republican elected Attorney General of Texas since Reconstruction and was sworn in by Governor George W. Bush.[15]


State of Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, 1997

He created the Texas Internet Bureau to investigate illegal internet practices. He fought against government waste and corruption with his investigation of fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid claims.[16]

Cornyn was criticized for failing to investigate in a timely manner the false drug convictions of numerous African-Americans in Tulia, Texas. An Austin Chronicle article on September 6, 2002, said that Cornyn announced that his office will investigate the 1999 drug bust, where the accused represented 16% of the town's black population.[17]

In 2005, Cornyn's name was mentioned among possibilities to replace Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O'Connor or William Rehnquist.[18]

United States Senate[edit]

Cornyn during the 113th congress



In the 2002 U.S. Senate Primary in Texas, Cornyn was the candidate promoted and supported by the Texas Republican Party. He easily defeated the five other candidates in the Republican Primary without debating the other candidates. Cornyn defeated his closest Republican challenger, Bruce Rusty Lang, a self-financed Dallas-based international physician, in the Republican Primary election by a ten to one electoral margin. In the 2002 General election, Cornyn defeated Democrat Ron Kirk in a campaign that cost each candidate over $9 million.[19] Cornyn's predecessor, Phil Gramm, resigned early, effective November 30, 2002, so that Senator-Elect Cornyn could take office early, and move into Gramm's office suite in order to begin organizing his staff. Cornyn did not, however, gain seniority, owing to a 1980 Rules Committee policy that no longer gave seniority to senators who entered Congress early for the purpose of gaining advantageous office space.


Texas has not elected a Democrat in a statewide election since 1994, and according to Rasmussen polling, in October 2008 Cornyn had an approval rating of 50%.[20] Texas House of Representatives member/Afghanistan War veteran Rick Noriega secured his place as Cornyn's Democratic challenger in the March 4 primary, beating out opponents Gene Kelly, Ray McMurrey, and Rhett Smith. The same Rasmussen poll showed Cornyn leading Noriega 47% to 43%, suggesting that this race might have proved to be unexpectedly competitive. However, most polls showed a much wider margin. Christian activist Larry Kilgore of Mansfield, was a Republican challenger for the March 2008 primary election, but Cornyn easily won the Republican Primary.[21]

Yvonne Adams Schick was the Libertarian Party's nominee.[22] In addition, the Green Party of Texas sought ballot access for its candidate David B. Collins.[23]

John Cornyn speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Cornyn succeeded in his reelection in 2014. Cornyn, according to the Dallas Morning News, "never broke a sweat."[24] He won the Republican primary with 59% of the vote against Houston-area congressman Steve Stockman in the March primary.[24] In the general election he raised $14 million, outspending nearly 3-1 Democrat David Alameel, a Dallas resident.[24]


In 2004, Cornyn co-founded and became the co-chairman of the U.S. Senate India Caucus.[25] Cornyn was selected by his colleagues in December 2006 to be a member of the five-person Republican Senate leadership team as Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.[26]

Cornyn has received various awards and recognitions, including the 2005 Border Texan of the Year Award; the National Child Support Enforcement Association's Children's Champion Award; the American Farm Bureau Federation's Friend of Farm Bureau Award; the Texas Association of Business's (TAB) Fighter for Free Enterprise Award; the National Federation of Independent Business's (NFIB) Guardian of Small Business Award; the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders's (CONLAMIC) Latino Leadership Award; and the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce's (TAMACC) International Leadership Legislative Award; among others.[citation needed]

In 2005, Cornyn gained notice by connecting the Supreme Court's reluctance to hear arguments for sustaining Terri Schiavo's life with the recent murders of Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother as well as the courtroom murder of Judge Rowland Barnes. Cornyn said: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and building up to the point where some people engage in violence".[27] His statement and a similar one by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay were widely denounced, including by The New York Times.[28] Cornyn later said that the statement was taken out of context and for that reason he regretted the statement.[29]

In 2005, the Project On Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, presented Cornyn and Senator Patrick Leahy with its first ever Bi-Partisan Leadership Award in honor of their cooperation on issues of government oversight and transparency, including their co-sponsorship of the OPEN Government Act of 2005, which prevented burying exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act in legislation.[30]

On May 18, 2007, Cornyn was involved in an altercation with the late Senator John McCain. During a meeting on immigration, McCain and Cornyn had a shouting match when Cornyn started questioning the number of judicial appeals that illegal immigrants could receive. McCain yelled an insult at Cornyn and said "I know more about this than anyone else in the room." Previously, Cornyn told McCain, "Wait a second here. I've been sitting in here for all of these negotiations and you just parachute in here on the last day. You're out of line."[31][32]

Cornyn has been described by Jim Jubak of MSN Money as one of "Big Oil's ten favorite members of Congress", as he has received more money from the oil and gas industry than all but six other members of Congress.[33]

On the day of Obama's inauguration, it was reported that Cornyn would prevent Hillary Clinton from being confirmed as secretary of state by a unanimous floor vote that day. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's spokesman reported to the Associated Press that a roll call vote would be held instead on the following day, January 21, 2009, for the Clinton confirmation and that it was expected Clinton would "receive overwhelming bipartisan support".[34] The vote was 94–2 in her favor, with only Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and David Vitter (R-LA) voting in opposition.[35]

As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Cornyn was a strong supporter of Norm Coleman's various court challenges to the 2008 election certification of the Minnesota U.S. Senate race.[36] Cornyn advocated for Coleman to bring the case before the federal court, and had said the trial and appeals could take years to complete.[37] Cornyn had threatened that Republicans would wage a "World War III" if the Senate Democrats had attempted to seat Democratic candidate Al Franken before the appeals were complete.[38] Coleman conceded after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of Democratic candidate Al Franken.

Senate Majority Whip[edit]

Senator John Cornyn as U.S. Senate Majority Whip, after 2014 re-election.

On November 14, 2012, Cornyn was elected Senate Minority Whip by his peers.[39]

Cornyn was named Senate Majority Whip after 2014 election, during which the Republican Party took control of the Senate.[40][24]

In February 2013, Cornyn became one of the sponsors of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act to expedite open access to taxpayer-funded research.[41]

After the death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, Cornyn said that any nominee by Obama would have a difficult confirmation process and would feel like a piñata.[42] He also stated that no serious candidate would accept a nomination before they would know that they would not be confirmed. When Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia, Cornyn said that even if the president has the constitutional authority to nominate someone, the Senate has full authority on how to proceed afterwards. Cornyn also said that the voice of the people should play a role and that the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the upcoming presidential election, so no hearings on Garland would be held.[43]

Cornyn supported the Senate resolution expressing objection to the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which called Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories a flagrant violation of international law.[44]

President Donald Trump with Senators Cornyn and Ted Cruz, August 29, 2017

On June 8, 2017, Cornyn questioned James Comey on Hillary's Clinton's emails at a committee hearing whose announced topic was the Russian interference in the 2016 election and Comey's dismissal as FBI director.[45]

In September 2018, during the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Cornyn accused the Democrats sitting on the Judiciary Committee of descending into mob rule by breaking the rules of decorum when asking for postponement or adjournment of the hearing to obtain or review documents from Kavanaugh's time during his time working for the George W. Bush administration. Cornyn said that it was hard to find the Democrats' claim that they could not properly assess Kavanaugh without the documents credible because it seemed like their minds had been made up beforehand.[46]

Committee assignments[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Cornyn was ranked by National Journal as the fourteenth-most conservative United States Senator in their 2013 rankings.[47] He was considered by The Dallas Morning News to be a reliable ally of former President George W. Bush on most issues.[48]

Civil rights and law enforcement[edit]

In the 2004 debate surrounding the Federal Marriage Amendment, Cornyn released an advance copy of a speech he was to give at The Heritage Foundation. In the speech, he wrote, "It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right... Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife". According to his office, he removed the reference to the box turtle in the actual speech,[49] but The Washington Post ran the quote, as did The Daily Show.[50][51]

Cornyn sponsored a bill that would allow law enforcement to force anyone arrested or detained by federal authorities to provide samples of their DNA, which would be recorded in a central database.[52] He voted to recommend a constitutional ban on flag desecration and for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. He also voted for the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act and extending its wiretap provision.

In a viral tweet posted February 24, 2019, Cornyn mocked dictatorship, centralized power and democratic socialism, by quoting Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, stating: "We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become."[53]

Human rights[edit]

In August 2018, Cornyn and 16 other lawmakers urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against Chinese officials who are responsible for human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority in western China's Xinjiang region.[54] They wrote: "The detention of as many as a million or more Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in "political reeducation” centers or camps requires a tough, targeted, and global response."[55]

Climate change[edit]

Cornyn was one of 22 senators to sign a letter to President Donald Trump urging the President to have the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement.[56]

Defense and homeland security[edit]

Cornyn was one of only 22 Senators to vote against the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 that expands the educational benefits for soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.[57] Instead, he co-sponsored S. 2938, which gives benefits that are dependent on length of service.[58]

In December 2010, Cornyn was one of twenty-six senators who voted against the ratification of New Start,[59] a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russian Federation obliging both countries to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads as well as 700 launchers deployed during the next seven years along with providing a continuation of on-site inspections that halted when START I expired the previous year. It was the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years.[60]

In August 2012, following news reports that a Russian Akula-class nuclear-powered submarine operated in the Gulf of Mexico purportedly undetected for over a month, Cornyn demanded details of this deployment from Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations.[61]

In 2013 Cornyn said that, despite the sequester, the Pentagon would actually see its budget increase.[62]

In July 2017, Harris voted in favor of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that grouped together sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.[63]

In April 2018, Cornyn was one of eight Republican senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan expressing "deep concern" over a report by the United Nations exposing "North Korean sanctions evasion involving Russia and China" and asserting that the findings "demonstrate an elaborate and alarming military-venture between rogue, tyrannical states to avoid United States and international sanctions and inflict terror and death upon thousands of innocent people" while calling it "imperative that the United States provides a swift and appropriate response to the continued use of chemical weapons used by President Assad and his forces, and works to address the shortcomings in sanctions enforcement."[64]

Cornyn supported U.S. involvement in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.[65][66] In December 2018, Cornyn stated that the U.S. should stand with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, saying: "Saudi Arabia is fighting a proxy war against Iran in Yemen, and an overreaction, in my view, would mean that we cancel arms sales and simply abandon our ally."[65]

Social policy[edit]

He voted to ban intact dilation and extraction (a procedure also known as "partial-birth abortion") except in cases where the mother's life was in danger, and for a criminal penalty for harming a fetus while committing another crime. He also voted in favor of notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. He voted against expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines.[67] He voted to prevent contributions to organizations that provide abortion as a component of family planning, and to prevent funding of organizations that support coercive abortion.[68]

Cornyn voted to confirm Samuel Alito as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and John Roberts for Chief Justice of the United States.[67] In September 2005, during the Supreme Court hearings for Roberts, Cornyn's staff passed out bingo cards to reporters. He asked them to stamp their card every time a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee used terms such as "far right" or "extremist".[69]

On July 24, 2009, Cornyn announced his intention to vote against President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, citing his opinion that she might rule "from a liberal, activist perspective".[70]

In February 2019, Cornyn was one of eleven senators to sign a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging them "to work with all federal, state and local regulators, as well as the hundreds of independent power producers and electricity distributors nation-wide to ensure our systems are protected" and affirming that they were "ready and willing to provide any assistance you need to secure our critical electricity infrastructure."[71]

Fiscal policy[edit]

In 2018, Cornyn voted for the Omnibus bill H.R. 1625 which is projected to add $1.3 Trillion to the US deficit.[72][73]

Cornyn voted to permanently repeal the estate tax and for raising the estate tax exemption to $5 million. He voted in favor of $350 billion in tax cuts over 11 years and supports making the George W. Bush tax cuts permanent.[67] However, he stands opposed to extending the 2011 payroll tax holiday.[74]

Cornyn is a cosponsor of the Fair Tax Act of 2007.[75] John Cornyn also voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 but against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

In 2005, Cornyn voted against including oil and gas smokestacks in mercury regulations. He voted against factoring global warming into federal project planning, and against banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also voted against removing oil and gas exploration subsidies.[67] During his tenure in the Senate, Cornyn has scored 0% on the League of Conservation Voters' environmental scorecard, a system of ranking politicians according to their voting record on environmental legislation.[76]

Cornyn voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008 also known as the Wall Street bailout, and later voted to end the program.[77]

Health care[edit]

Cornyn opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) in December 2009,[78] and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[79] Cornyn stated that Senator Cruz's efforts to defund Obamacare by threatening to default on the U.S. Government's debt obligations were "unachievable", saying "the shutdown did not help our cause. What did help our cause was the president's implementation of Obamacare, which has overwhelmed everything else. I don't hear anyone thinking that another government shutdown is the way to achieve our goals."[80] Cornyn joined other Republican leaders to block fellow Texas Senator Ted Cruz's procedural move to reject an increase in the debt ceiling.[81]

Gun rights[edit]

In April 2013, Senator Cornyn was one of 46 senators to vote against the passing of a bill which would have expanded background checks for all buyers. Cornyn voted with 40 Republicans and 5 Democrats to stop the passage of the bill.

In January 2014, Senator Cornyn introduced the "Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act". The bill would provide interstate reciprocity for persons with concealed weapons permits. Cornyn described the bill as "It's like a driver's license. It doesn't trump state laws. Say you have a carry permit in Texas; then you use it in another state that has a concealed-carry law."[82] He was rated "A" by the National Rifle Association (NRA) as of 2003[67] and 2014;[82] as of 2018 his NRA rating was "A+".[83] Cornyn has continued to support Concealed Carry Reciprocity as of the year of 2018, with the Republican-held House of Representatives passing a bill in late 2017 with this language attached to gun control measures from the Senate's Fix NICS bill.[84]

Victims' rights[edit]

Senator John Cornyn has long been opposed to anyone profiting from memorabilia tied to convicted murderers, and had made three attempts thus far to pass acts against this. He introduced his first "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act" in 2007, which died in committee. He then revived it three years later with cosponsor Amy Klobuchar. The 2010 version of the "Murderabilia" bill met the same fate as the first.[85]

In 2013, inspired by a Nidal Hasan letter put up for sale by artist Kelly Hutchison, Cornyn decided to continue working on his bill. The listing claimed that all proceeds would be donated to charity, and the letter was reported to have sold anywhere from $2000 USD[86] to $500,000 USD[87] by various news sources.


In January 2018, Cornyn was one of thirty-six Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st Century.[88]

Electoral history[edit]

United States Senate election in Texas, 2014[89]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican John Cornyn 2,855,068 62
Democratic David Alameel 1,594,252 34
Libertarian Rebecca Paddock 133,467 3
Green Emily Marie Sanchez 54,587 1
Independent Mohammed Tahiro 1,178 <1
Majority 1,022,814 22
Total votes 4,638,552 100
Turnout 33
Republican hold
United States Senate Republican primary election in Texas, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican John Cornyn (incumbent) 781,259 59
Republican Steve Stockman 251,577 19
Republican Dwayne Stovall 140,794 11
Republican Linda Vega 50,057 4
Republican Ken Cope 34,409 3
Republican Chris Mapp 23,535 2
Republican Reid Reasor 20,600 2
Republican Curt Cleaver 12,325 1
Texas U.S. Senate election 2008
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican John Cornyn (incumbent) 4,326,639 55
Democratic Rick Noriega 3,383,890 43
Libertarian Yvonne Adams Schick 184,729 2
Texas U.S. Senate Republican primary election 2008
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican John Cornyn (incumbent) 997,216 81
Republican Larry Kilgore 226,649 19
Texas U.S. Senate election 2002
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican John Cornyn 2,480,991 55
Democratic Ron Kirk 1,946,681 43
Libertarian Scott Jameson 35,538 1
Green Roy Williams 25,051 <1
Texas U.S. Senate Republican primary election 2002
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican John Cornyn 478,825 77
Republican Bruce Rusty Lang 46,907 8
Republican Douglas Deffenbaugh 43,611 7
Republican Dudley Mooney 32,202 5
Republican Lawrence Cranberg 17,757 3
Texas Attorney General election 1998
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican John Cornyn 2,002,794 54
Democratic Jim Mattox 1,631,045 44
Libertarian Mike Angwin 57,604 2
Texas Attorney General Republican primary runoff election 1998
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican John Cornyn 135,130 58
Republican Barry Williamson 98,218 42
Texas Attorney General Republican primary election 1998
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Barry Williamson 208,345 38
Republican John Cornyn 176,269 32
Republican Tom Pauken 162,180 30
Texas Associate Justice Supreme Court election 1996
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican John Cornyn (incumbent) 2,686,518 52
Democratic Patrice Barron 2,351,750 46
Libertarian Thomas Stults 129,203 2

Personal life[edit]

Cornyn and his wife, Sandy Hansen, have two daughters.[90]

Cornyn gained national attention when he released a video referring to himself as "Big Bad John". The video was featured on comedy shows such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

In August 2014, Cornyn was named "Mr. South Texas" for the 118th Washington's Birthday Celebration in Laredo in February 2015. WBCA president Veronica Castillon said that Cornyn "loves Laredo, and it shows through his attention and actions..."[91]

Cornyn receives pensions from three separate state and local governments in addition to his Senate salary.[92]


  • "Office of the Secretary of State". Archived from the original on January 9, 2014. Retrieved September 19, 2007.


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