Sessions Gets a Little Race-y
Jeff Sessions the U.S. Attorney General speaking in front of the National Sheriffs Association stated “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.” He said and the internet, specifically twitter, exploded.
On the one hand scholars and the Department of Justice immediately jumped to Sessions’ defense stating that Anglo-American is a reference to the shared common law heritage with Britain and this is a common term used in legal scholarly writing. Needless to say those who are skeptical of the Trump administration when it comes to race relations saw this as a giant red flag (or white hood).
CNN points out in it’s report that Sessions went off script with the “Anglo-American” remark which only creates more mystery as to why he said it and what he meant by it. My guess is that was his intention. While I have stated many times that I don’t believe Trump is as a racist but instead an opportunist willing to play to any crowd that supports him, I also believe that Jeff Sessions has very strong racist tendencies and is very dangerous as the top ranking legal official for the country.
The idea that the Attorney General of the United States was not aware that a statement touting Anglo-American heritage as integral to law enforcement is laughable, but I’m not a mind reader so I have no idea of saying what was in his head at the time. And that is the beauty of what he did. He may very well have meant the sheriff and law enforcement is critical to maintaining the white american power structure, but because of dual meanings and interpretations, no intelligent person can make a definitive claim of racism against him using that statement as proof.
Many will call this a dog whistle, they will say this is a call to arms to white nationalists that have been embedded in sheriffs departments across the country to enforce systemic racial oppression. Seems like a far leap, but they will use his past statements, and actions to make the case that Jeff Sessions is a racist that wants to maintain the white power structure in our country. But for every action there is a reaction and for everyone that condemns Sessions there will be a conservative media outlet that defends him.
The defense of this is simple and makes sense, he was simply using a term that describes the nexus of American and British rule of law also described as Common Law. Law students are taught a great deal about Common Law in their first year law classes, but it is almost exclusively referred to as Common Law with few references to Anglo American Heritage. But that dual meaning is where Sessions’ supporters will prop him up as someone well versed in American law which prompts him to use terminology not as well known to those who aren’t as experienced and knowledgeable as the Attorney General.
My opinion is that Sessions, got the exact reaction he wanted on both sides, and will follow this up with a certain level of faux shock and dismay as to how his words could be taken out of context. He will reiterate that he is not a racist, and will urge all law enforcement to do their job without bias or prejudice.
And the dance goes on.
“I want to thank every sheriff in America. 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,” Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”
“We must never erode this historic office,” Sessions continued.
Invoking “Anglo-American heritage” seems to have been an impromptu decision by the attorney general. A written version of the remarks says that Sessions was supposed to say: “The sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”
Ian Prior, a spokesperson for the DOJ, said in a statement that the term “Anglo-American law” is common parlance among lawyers and legal scholars, pointing to a number of opinions from the US Supreme Court.
“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,” Prior said.