Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday praised the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” Sessions said. “We must never erode this historic office.”
Sessions’ phrasing deviated from his prepared remarks as published by the Justice Department, where the line was “The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”
Asked to clarify the meaning of Sessions’ improvisation, Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior told TPM by email: “Anglo-American law is another term for common law – which is the legal system that we use (as opposed to say, Napoleonic Code used in France) and is derived from the system of law that originated in England.”
“That said, I am confused as to why this is a story that you would need a comment on,” Prior added.
The word “heritage” is a loaded term often used by neo-Confederates and white supremacists to defend the public display of Confederate flags and statues.
Sessions has a history of making dubious off-the-cuff remarks about race and its role in U.S. history. In 1986, a Republican-controlled Senate once rejected his nomination to a federal judgeship after several U.S. attorneys testified that Sessions was hostile to civil rights cases and made racist remarks.
Among other comments, Sessions allegedly derided the NAACP and ACLU as “Communist-inspired” and “un-American,” and said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was alright until he heard that some members smoked marijuana.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that some local Southern sheriffs historically worked to enforce segregation and crack down heavily on civil rights movements in the spirit of the “heritage” that many modern white nationalists cite.