What You Need To Know: Jeff Sessions
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

What did Jeff Sessions say about Anglo-American heritage. What does that mean?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being accused of racism by some organizations after he used the term “Anglo-American heritage” Monday at a National Sheriff’s Association meeting he was addressing.

“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 at the meeting being held in Washington D.C.

Sessions went on to say, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” and it was that statement that some took offense to.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a statement soon after Sessions made the remarks, which read, “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 and in the opinion of the NAACP, qualifies as the latest example of dog whistle politics.”

The NAACP statement also said Sessions’s “racially-tinged comments” should give “all people reason to worry.”

Sessions had been accused of being racially insensitive in the past. A Senate committee denied him a federal judgeship in 1986 after some colleagues said he used racial slurs and joked about the Ku Klux Klan.

The Justice Department defended Session’s comments, explaining that the term “Anglo-American law” is one commonly used in the legal system.

“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," Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement. "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.”

What is Anglo-American law? The Encyclopedia Britannica explains it as “the body of customary law based upon judicial decisions and embodied in reports of decided cases that has been administered by the common-law courts of England since the Middle Ages.” 

In other words, it is the administration of the law based on previous decisions made by judges. Anglo-American refers to things that are made up of influences from Britain and from the United States. Every state in the union uses common law with the exception of Louisiana. Louisiana’s legal system is based on civil code, meaning they are derived from direct interpretation of laws made by legislatures.

The Washington Post pointed out that the term has been commonly used by Supreme Court justices.

DORAL, FL - FEBRUARY 08: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (C) joins with U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, SOUTHCOM's commander (L) and Anthony Williams, Drug Enforcement Administration associate administrator, during the opening remarks at the U.S. Southern Command Opioid Summit on February 8, 2018 in Doral, Florida. During the day-long Opioid Summit officials are focusing on the crisis, considering approaches to strengthen the nation's response and define holistic strategies supporting the president's call to action in order to end what he has declared a 'national public health emergency.' (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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