5 Things You Should Know About Jeff Sessions

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 21, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be attorney general for the United States under his incoming administration. As attorney general, Sessions would be the top lawyer and law enforcement officer for the federal government, setting policy, guiding prosecutions, even representing the government before the Supreme Court if he so chooses. Under Sessions, the Department of Justice could become one of the most transformed government departments in a Trump administration, according to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

So, who is Jeff Sessions and what do you need to know about him? For one, his full name is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Here are five more important details about the man who could take over the DOJ:

1. He Got His Start as a Federal Prosecutor

After graduating from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1973, Sessions became an assistant U.S. attorney, and later U.S. attorney, in Alabama. He spent 18 years working as a federal prosecutor before later becoming the Attorney General of Alabama and a U.S. Senator.

Sessions still views himself as a prosecutor, according to Turley. He would likely relish a chance to take over the department where he got his start. In comments during the confirmation hearing for Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, for example, Sessions declared "I'm not happy about what's happened to my Department of Justice." (Emphasis added.)

2. He Could Have Been a Federal Judge, If It Wasn't for the Accusations of Racism

In 1986, President Reagan nominated Sessions to be a federal judge in Alabama, but that nomination was derailed over accusations that Sessions was racially insensitive, if not fully racist. Several Justice Department lawyers testified at Sessions' confirmation hearing that he had made questionable remarks, such as saying that groups like the ACLU were "un-American" and "forced civil rights down the throats of people."

One recalled telling Sessions that a lawyer had been called a "disgrace to his race" for representing black clients. "Well, maybe he is," Sessions reportedly responded. He may have joked, at one point, that he was okay with the KKK, "until I found out they smoked pot." (See item 5, below.)

Sessions denied many of the allegations against him, but they derailed his chances of joining the federal bench. He became one of the few nominees whose chances were killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee itself, when it deadlocked over sending his nomination to the full Senate floor.

As Sessions comes back before the Senate for confirmation as AG, expect at least some of these accusations to be revisited.

3. He'll Have Broad Influence Over Government Policy

As head of the Department of Justice, Sessions would have a broad impact on U.S. policy, directing prosecutors to pursue certain cases, rather than others, and advising the president on everything from domestic policy to Supreme Court appointments. Some possible changes that could be expected from a Sessions DOJ: less of a focus on sentencing reform, a renewed interest in voter fraud cases, and a hard-line approach to immigration.

4. He'll Decide Whether to Continue Investigating Hillary Clinton

Remember when Donald Trump told Hillary Clinton that, if he were president, "you'd be in jail"? Well, Sessions could help determine if the campaign promises to "lock her up" continue after the election. As Attorney General, he'd be in charge of deciding whether Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation should be investigated or prosecuted for any alleged wrongdoing.

5. He Probably Doesn't Smoke Marijuana

"Good people don't smoke marijuana," Sessions declared during a Senate drug hearing in April. Long an opponent to relaxed drug laws, he described one of President Obama's "great failures" as "his lax treatment in comments on marijuana," reversing "20 years almost of hostility to drugs." If he's put in charge of the Department of Justice, Sessions could reverse the Cole Memo, which established a hands-off approach for federal marijuana enforcement, putting an end to states' experiments with marijuana legalization.

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