ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN - The legal eagle

Conservative with staunch views is a gentleman

Mr Sessions is said to have made offensive remarks, like referring to an official using the N-word, but he said he is not a racist.
Mr Sessions is said to have made offensive remarks, like referring to an official using the N-word, but he said he is not a racist.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

If Senator Jeff Sessions, 69, is to become Attorney-General, he will need to do something he couldn't in 1986: Get past a panel of US lawmakers.

That year, President Ronald Reagan picked him to be a district judge, but he was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee because of alleged racist remarks.

Throughout the hearing, Mr Session's colleagues recounted numerous incidents of offensive remarks from the Alabama native. Among the allegations: He suggested that a white lawyer working for black clients was a traitor to his race; joked that he used to think the Klu Klux Klan was okay until he learnt they smoked marijuana; told a black lawyer to "be careful what you say to white folks"; referred to a local government official using the N-word; and called civil right groups "communist inspired".

Mr Sessions admitted to making some of those remarks in private conversations but stressed that he not a racist.

"When I talk to friends, I do not guard every word that I say because I think that I know they know that my commitment to equality and justice is real, and they would not twist my words or misinterpret what I am saying to them," he told the committee. "I deny as strongly as I can express it that I am insensitive to the concerns of blacks."

 

While that past will likely hang over his confirmation - especially at a time when relations between law enforcement and the black community are strained - the decades since then have seen Mr Sessions build up a reputation as a strong conservative lawmaker.

His strong commitment to fiscal conservatism made him a darling of the Tea Party movement and his tough views on immigration made him a natural ally for Mr Trump.

He has opposed nearly every immigration Bill considered by the Senate and pushed hard for legislation to ban for 10 years federal contractors who hire illegal immigrants.

Despite his strong views, even his opponents say Mr Sessions is a gentleman.

He has also been able to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats on legislation that he supports, like criminal justice reform and government spending.

In picking Mr Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump said he is a "world-class legal mind" and someone who is "greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him".

Jeremy Au Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Conservative with staunch views is a gentleman '. Print Edition | Subscribe