Jeff Sessions Faces Fresh Racism Charge After Praising 'Anglo-American Heritage of Law Enforcement'

Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced renewed racism charges after he praised the "Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement" while speaking to the National Sheriff's Association winter conference in Washington, D.C., on February 12. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose political career has been dogged by allegations of racist comments, faces a fresh backlash after harkening back to the "Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement" during a speech to the National Sheriffs' Association on Monday.

"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," he said at the organization's winter conference. "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. We must never erode this historic office."

The Anglo-American comment may have been unscripted as it did not appear in a copy of his prepared remarks published by the Department of Justice. That copy reads: "Since our founding, the independently elected Sheriff has been seen as the people's protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and amenable to the people. The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."

There could well be an innocent explanation for Sessions's comment, with some speculating that he meant only to refer to the policing structure the United States inherited from Britain or even the Anglo-Saxon root of the word. "Sheriff" is a portmanteau of the Anglo-Saxon words "shire," meaning "county," and "reeve," meaning "guardian," according to The Washington Post.

But Sessions's history led some on social media to be less generous with their interpretation.

"Under any other administration I'd call this an innocuous historical footnote; in the current context, my 'benefit of the doubt' reserves are pretty well depleted," tweeted Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, tweeted a quote from her mother's 1986 opposition to Sessions's nomination for a federal judgeship.

"The irony of Mr. Sessions's nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods," Bernice King tweeted.

Sessions was later denied that federal judgeship over allegations of making racist comments when he referred to Thomas Figures, a black assistant U.S. attorney who worked for him, as "boy."

Sessions denied the allegations at the time, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee: "I am not a racist, I am not insensitive to blacks. I have supported civil rights activity in my state. I have done my job with integrity, equality, and fairness for all."