Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in damage-control mode on Tuesday after he made remarks the previous day that some have deemed racist, ABC News is reporting.
On Monday, Sessions was addressing the National Sheriffs’ Association’s winter conference in Washington, D.C. During his address, Sessions mentioned the history of the office of Sheriff and its role in the history of law enforcement.
“Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to, and accountable to, people through the elected process. The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”
Almost immediately, the remarks drew sharp criticism from some respondents, who saw racist undertones in the words “Anglo-American.”
Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, called the phrase a “dog whistle.”
“Do you know anyone who says ‘Anglo-American heritage’ in a sentence? What could possibly be the purpose of saying that other than to pit Americans against each other? For the chief law enforcement officer to use a dog whistle like that is appalling.”
“Dog whistle politics,” for those not familiar, refers to coded language from politicians that is intended to mean one thing to the general public, but has an additional layer of meaning to a targeted subgroup.
Similarly, Time writer Charlotte Alter saw the remarks as evidence that “our justice system is rooted in white supremacy,” according to Fox News.
What’s more, as CNN notes, the remarks weren’t included in printed copies of Sessions’ speech, and it appears he made the remarks off-the-cuff. In the printed transcripts, Sessions was supposed to say: “The sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”
— CNN (@CNN) February 12, 2018
In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior noted that “Anglo-American law” is a well-known and oft-used phrase in the legal world, and even turns up in Supreme Court opinions.
“As most law students learn in the first week of their first year, Anglo-American law — also known as the common law — is a shared legal heritage between England and America. The sheriff is unique to that shared legal heritage. Before reporters sloppily imply nefarious meaning behind the term, we would suggest that they read any number of the Supreme Court opinions that use the term. Or they could simply put ‘Anglo-American law’ into Google.”
In fact, as Fox News notes, none other than former president Barack Obama — himself a Constitutional Law scholar — has used the phrase “Anglo-American legal system” in his own remarks before with no controversy.
Nevertheless, the NAACP released a statement characterizing Sessions’ remarks as “racially tinged.”‘
“His decision to link the term Sheriff to some part ‘of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement’ is an unfortunate yet consistent aspect of the language coming out of the Department of Justice under his tenure.”
This is not the first time that Jeff Sessions has faced accusations of racism in his career. In fact, as the Washington Post reported in January 2017, racism almost derailed Sessions’ career in 1986. At the time, an Alabama Senate committee denied Sessions a judgeship after testimony from his colleagues that he had used The n-word and had made jokes about the Ku Klux Klan.