Updated as of 10:33 a.m.
Trump’s team cited Sessions’ “distinguished legal career” and service as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and as Alabama attorney general prior to being elected to the Senate in 1996.
“Jeff has been a highly respected member of the U.S. Senate for 20 years. He is a world-class legal mind and considered a truly great attorney general and U.S. attorney in the state of Alabama. Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him,” Trump said in a statement
Sessions, 69, was the first incumbent senator to endorse Trump during the presidential primaries and he shares Trump’s fierce opposition to looser immigration laws. He has also been a part of his transition team.
Alabama’s senior senator, Republican Richard C. Shelby, congratulated his colleague on his selection.
“While there is no doubt that I would miss partnering with my dear friend Sen. Jeff Sessions in the Senate, he would be an excellent choice for any role in President-elect Trump’s cabinet,” Shelby said in a statement to Roll Call. “Not only would Jeff bring integrity and immense expertise to the role of attorney general due to his decades of experience in the legal field and an impressive tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Jeff has also gained the deep respect of his Senate colleagues for his commitment to upholding the rule of law.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa called Sessions’ selection a “boost for constitutional government.”
Rumor Sen Sessions to b named AG. Congrats to Jeff We will miss him in Senate But quite a boost for Constitutional Govt & my oversite— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) November 18, 2016
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a former presidential rival of Trump who was rumored to be under consideration for the top law enforcement post, said the appointment was “great news for all of us who revere the Constitution and the rule of law.”“I have been honored to work with Sen. Sessions on many of our nation’s most important issues over the last four years,” Cruz said in a statement. “Sen. Sessions has had an extraordinary career in government and law enforcement. He has been an exemplary senator for the state of Alabama, and I am confident that he will be an exceptional United States attorney general.”
Confirmation is no sure thing, though. President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to be a federal district court judge in 1986, but the Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination. Among Democrats voting against Sessions were Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (now the outgoing vice president) and Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, who is now Sessions’ colleague on Judiciary.
Critics have accused Sessions of “gross insensitivity” on racial issues. Justice Department lawyers said he called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union “communist-inspired” and claimed they tried to “force civil rights down the throats of people.” Sessions said his words were misrepresented.
At a recent event honoring the Selma, Alabama, “foot soldiers” of the civil rights era, Sessions seemed to express some regret for that time period and Alabama’s complicated civil rights history.
“Certainly, I feel like I should have stepped forward more,” Sessions said at a ceremony in the Capitol in February.
During his two decades in the Senate, Sessions has emerged as one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives. He has been particularly vocal on immigration issues as a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Sessions often cites his experience as a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general when dealing with judicial issues like immigration and criminal justice legislation.
In 2013, Sessions was an vocal opponent of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill developed by the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators. Sessions also voted against President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, citing Obama’s “unlawful” executive orders on immigration.
“At the outset of this nomination process, I said that no senator should vote to confirm anyone for this position — the top law enforcement job in America — who supported the president’s unlawful actions,” Sessions said of Lynch’s nomination in January 2015. “Congress must defend its constitutional role, which is clearly threatened.”
The Alabama senator has also been among the group of GOP senators who are opposed to a criminal justice overhaul bill that would reduce some mandatory minimum sentences and that has been championed by members of both parties. He has argued that such legislation could reverse a general reduction in crime in recent years.
Sessions also serves on the Armed Services, Budget, and Environment and Public Works committees.