Liberals on social media accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions of explicit or implicit racism on Monday after he noted the "Anglo-American heritage" of the office of the sheriff.
"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 in a speech before the National Sheriffs Association. "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement."
That remark was met with intense criticism on social media from predominantly liberal users, including Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.), who accused Sessions of making a racist comment.
"the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement"
I’m not sure how much more proof y’all need to show what these folks are about. https://t.co/7daP4s1gOf
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) February 12, 2018
Like I said lots of dog whistles all week. https://t.co/UnNaqe623J
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) February 12, 2018
Hoods off. All in. https://t.co/CD9reyQviB
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) February 12, 2018
Holy sh– not even bothering to hide it any longer. https://t.co/i93fJIdmjU
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) February 12, 2018
ethnonationalism watch https://t.co/qIulQyfuRr
— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) February 12, 2018
This veiled racism is going to need a thicker veil. https://t.co/OoYN0KzvWs
— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) February 12, 2018
A giant burning cross would have been more subtle https://t.co/S32FFaG7gk
— Amanda Deibert 🏳️🌈 (@amandadeibert) February 12, 2018
Isn't the point of a dog whistle that only dogs can hear it? https://t.co/lDxe2irlTM
— Quinn Cummings (@quinncy) February 12, 2018
Is it still a dog whistle when everyone can hear it?https://t.co/XD70RN1OwX
— Martin Heinrich (@MartinHeinrich) February 12, 2018
Media outlets such as CNN, the Daily Beast, and the Hill also covered Sessions' remark.
Rather than making a racial statement, however, Sessions was more likely referring to the fact that the position of "sheriff" is nearly unique to areas that have historic ties to England. Collins English Dictionary lists the United States as one of the few countries that has sheriffs, along with England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland.
"Anglo-American" also is a term generally used to refer to English common law, which forms the basis of much of the U.S. legal system. The Encyclopedia Britannica entry for "Common law, also called Anglo-American law" was penned by professors from Harvard and the University of London.
A Sessions spokesman confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that was the intended meaning.
"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 spokesman said in a statement.
"The sheriff is unique to that shared legal heritage," the statement continued. "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."
A search of Supreme Court archives brings up 259 decisions that reference the "Anglo-American" legal tradition in some fashion.