Attorney General Jeff Sessions made reference to the "Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement," a comment interpreted by critics as racially insensitive.
The remark was made Monday in a speech to the National Sheriffs' Association's winter conference in Washington, D.C., as he thanked those in attendance and outlined the history of their positions in law enforcement.
"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," said Sessions, adding, "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”
That phrase was not included in a copy of Sessin's prepared remarks. In that version, handed out by the Department of Justice after the event, the line reads: "The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."
Among those who weighed in on Sessions' speech included Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who called the phrase a "dog whistle" and expressed continued pride in his opposition to the attorney general's nomination last year, and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate in the state's 2018 gubernatorial election, who called Sessions an "outright racist."
Defenders of Sessions argued Monday that "Anglo-American law" is a term frequently used in legal circles as a synonym for "common law," and has no racial undertones.