by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
In a recent Washington Post article, Aaron Blake discusses “the liberal Trump outrage machine” and its absurd reaction to Jeff Sessions’ use of the phrase “Anglo-American” in a recent speech to the National Sheriffs Association. Blake begins by saying:
Washington was an outrage factory long before President Trump arrived, and it has become exponentially more so now that he’s here. But constantly being on an outrage footing can undermine your cause.
That’s what happened Monday with critics of a speech Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave in which he cited the “Anglo American” origins of the nation’s sheriffs. “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo American heritage of law enforcement,” he said. …
Perhaps the two most full-throated responses came from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and the NAACP. Schatz called it “appalling.” The NAACP said they were Sessions’s “latest racially tinged comments” and that it “qualifies as the latest example of dog-whistle politics.”
The media quickly keyed on the apparent controversy. “Sessions draws fire for ‘Anglo-American heritage’ remark at sheriffs’ conference,” read ABC News’s headline. “Attorney General Sessions faces accusations of racism after honoring ‘Anglo-American heritage’ of policing,” the New York Daily News said. Splinter’s Emma Roller went quite a bit further, writing that Sessions “Let His Racism Peek Through a Little More Than He May Have Intended To.”
But, says Blake:
If talking about the Anglo American origins of American law enforcement is racist or a dog whistle, then someone should tell president [sic] Barack Obama. The National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke unearthed multiple examples of Obama himself using the same word as Sessions:
A top Obama administration Justice Department official, Bill Baer, also cited the “Anglo-American common law system” in a 2014 speech about legal relations between the United States and China.
Blake isn’t the only one to notice that this line of criticism is absurd, if not downright paranoid. He cites a piece by Charles Cooke, but if you really want to understand why “Attorney General Sessions was exactly right in praising the Anglo-American tradition of ‘the independently elected sheriff,'” read this lengthy post by Eugene Volokh.
Volokh reviews the entire history of the office of sheriff, beginning with its origin in the reign of Alfred the Great (871-99). He describes the corruption of the office under the Normans (remember the Sheriff of Nottingham?), and its subsequent reform and improvement, especially on this side of the Atlantic:
The American practice of electing sheriffs began in 1652, when the Royal Governor of Virginia told each county to choose its own sheriffs. … It was not surprising that the reestablishment of popular election of sheriffs came from a county government; other than the New England town meetings, the first democratic governments in the American colonies were county governments. …
Americans came to understand the election of the sheriff as a right of the people. The 1802 Ohio Constitution was the first state constitution to formally specify that sheriffs must be elected. … Today, American sheriffs are elected in all states except Alaska (which has no counties), Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Connecticut (where the office of sheriff was abolished in 2000). …
Today, most Americans enjoy a right that is denied almost everywhere else in the world, including England: the right of electing the chief law enforcement officers of their county.
Read the whole thing!