Why is Jeff Sessions such a controversial pick for US attorney general?

As the Senate prepares to vote on Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Justice, we explain why his nomination has been so fervently opposed

Jamiles Lartey / The Guardian / February 8, 2017


Who is Jeff Sessions?

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is a four-term junior senator from Alabama who, before being elected to that office in 1996, served as attorney general for the state. Sessions is a conservative Republican who is anti-abortion, anti-immigration, skeptical of climate change and hostile to same-sex marriage. On issues of criminal justice, Sessions has championed “law and order”, stern marijuana prohibition and the unregulated use of civil forfeiture by law enforcement.

Why did Donald Trump nominate him as attorney general?

After passing over some more well-known rumored contenders such as New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump picked Sessions, calling him “a world-class legal mind”. Trump continued in his statement: “Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”

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Sessions’ reputation as a hard-nosed proponent of “law and order” likely endeared him to Trump, as this kind of tough rhetoric was a major part of the president’s campaign message. This is a direct rebuke to the national and local trend of “smart on crime” efforts like those supported by former attorney generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, to ease some of the most draconian practices of the criminal justice system. Sessions’ early support for instituting some kind of ban on Muslim immigration and for a border wall with Mexico likely helped his case.

Trump has also repeatedly expressed the high value he places on the praise and loyalty of others, and it’s likely that Sessions’ early and fervent support of Trump’s candidacy helped him pull out in front of alternative contenders.

How likely is it that Sessions will be confirmed this week?

Sessions’ nomination made its way out of committee last week and, given the current makeup of the Senate, with Republicans in control of a slim 52-48 majority (one of whom is Sessions himself), appears to be a shoo-in for confirmation. This is despite a fast-growing petition to halt his confirmation that has received over 1 million signatures.

Unlike controversial education secretary Best DeVos’ confirmation, which saw two Republican defectors, forcing Vice-President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote, no GOP members have expressed any objection