Then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor meets with Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, on June 2, 2009.
Then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor meets with Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, on June 2, 2009. (Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL)

In choosing Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions as his nominee for U.S. attorney general, President-elect Donald Trump selected a reliably conservative and outspoken critic of some the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent and most controversial liberal-leaning rulings.

Here’s a snapshot of what Sessions had to say on a few of those cases—including voting rights, same-sex marriage and religious freedom—and about the Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The big cases

Obergefell v. Hodges, the 5-4 decision in 2015 finding constitutional right to same-sex marriage:

“Where the family is not the center of American life, government is,” Sessions warned. “Today’s ruling is part of a continuing effort to secularize, by force and intimidation, a society that would not exist but for the faith which inspired people to sail across unknown waters and trek across unknown frontiers.”

United States v. Texas, the 4-4 deadlock this year on the legality of the Obama administration’s deferred deportation of “Dreamers” and undocumented parents of American-citizen children:

“Today’s decision in United States v. Texas is not just a victory for Texas, Alabama, and a majority of the States in this great nation who challenged the lawless actions of the Obama Administration, but a victory for the American people and for the rule of law,” Sessions said in a statement. “But this fight is far from over. The case now will be sent back for additional litigation on the merits of the case, and the ultimate outcome remains uncertain. What is clear, as highlighted by the egregious unethical conduct by the Department of Justice lawyers, in this case, is that this Administration will stop at nothing to forge ahead with its lawless plans—which arguably have already caused substantial damage to the integrity of our immigration system.”

Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the 5-4 decision in 2013 striking down Section 4 coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act:

“It was good news, I think, for the South in that [the court found there was] not sufficient evidence to justify treating them disproportionately than, let’s say, Philadelphia or Boston or Los Angeles or Chicago,” Sessions said, according to Roll Call. When pushed on whether he supports preclearance, Sessions said: “Well, I don’t think it should exist in Shelby County. Shelby County has never had a history of denying voters and certainly not now.”

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 5-4 decision in 2014 holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows closely held, for-profit corporations to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees based on religious objections:

“Hobby Lobby is a family business that objected to a federal government mandate requiring them to pay for drugs like Plan B and Ella, which they argued was a violation of their pro-life religious views,” Sessions said. “Today’s ruling is an important step towards restoring the religious freedoms that the President’s health care law suppressed. And it is yet another rebuke for an Administration that does not recognize the limits on its power.”

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the 5-4 decision in 2012 upholding Affordable Care Act’s individual requirement to purchase health insurance:

“The majority redefines a provision of the law that declares a mandate to be a tax. I am very troubled by this,” Sessions said in a statement. “Scholars will give great thought to what the Court has done and I am afraid it will be concluded that this is a legal sleight of hand rather than a principled decision. It is particularly remarkable that the four most activist members of the Court did not conclude that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause. It would be hard to see any limits on the Commerce Clause if this mandate is not deemed to be outside its bounds.”

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 5-4 decision in 2010 that invalidated limits on independent corporate and union campaign expenditures:

“We cannot allow the government to suppress speech simply because it is near an election time and corporations have given some money to put it on,” Sessions said in a floor speech. “I think that is not healthy. In fact, I think our whole approach to constricting and limiting people in pooling their money and running ads is clearly in conflict with the First Amendment.”

Kelo v. City of New London, the 5-4 decision in 2005 upholding city’s use of eminent domain for economic development as “public use”:

“The Constitution said you could take property for public use. The court felt that was too restrictive, basically, and a majority just changed it to say you could take property for a public purpose, which includes some private redevelopment of the area in their minds. See, that’s not founded in the Constitution. That’s an overreach, in my opinion.”

On Supreme Court nominees:

Samuel Alito Jr.

“Well, right now there is a strong feeling, that I share, that the court on some very important issues that people care deeply about is exceeding its authority. They’re calling on me and those of us in Congress to do something about it,” Sessions said in 2006. “And Congress, I think, has shown restraint. But I hope that when you become a member of this august body, the Supreme Court, and I believe you will, that you will take those concerns with you and share with the members of the court that their views on policy issues are of no greater value than mine, frankly, at least in my opinion they’re not, and that the Congress has been showing some restraint here. But we really want the court to be more modest and to draw back from some of its intervention and policy issues that are causing much angst around the country.”

Sonia Sotomayor

“I don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism,” Sessions wrote in 2009 in USA Today. “She has evoked its mantra too often. As someone who cares deeply about our great heritage of law, I must withhold my consent.”

Elena Kagan

“I think a real lawyer or experienced judge who had seen the courtroom and the practice of law would not have tried as she did to float their way through a [Senate confirmation] hearing in the manner that she did,” Sessions said in 2010. “Her testimony failed to evidence an understanding of the gravity of the issues with which she was dealing and the important nature of her role in them.”

In choosing Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions as his nominee for U.S. attorney general, President-elect Donald Trump selected a reliably conservative and outspoken critic of some the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent and most controversial liberal-leaning rulings.

Here’s a snapshot of what Sessions had to say on a few of those cases—including voting rights, same-sex marriage and religious freedom—and about the Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan .

The big cases

Obergefell v. Hodges, the 5-4 decision in 2015 finding constitutional right to same-sex marriage:

“Where the family is not the center of American life, government is,” Sessions warned. “Today’s ruling is part of a continuing effort to secularize, by force and intimidation, a society that would not exist but for the faith which inspired people to sail across unknown waters and trek across unknown frontiers.”

United States v. Texas, the 4-4 deadlock this year on the legality of the Obama administration’s deferred deportation of “Dreamers” and undocumented parents of American-citizen children:

“Today’s decision in United States v. Texas is not just a victory for Texas, Alabama, and a majority of the States in this great nation who challenged the lawless actions of the Obama Administration, but a victory for the American people and for the rule of law,” Sessions said in a statement. “But this fight is far from over. The case now will be sent back for additional litigation on the merits of the case, and the ultimate outcome remains uncertain. What is clear, as highlighted by the egregious unethical conduct by the Department of Justice lawyers, in this case, is that this Administration will stop at nothing to forge ahead with its lawless plans—which arguably have already caused substantial damage to the integrity of our immigration system.”

Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the 5-4 decision in 2013 striking down Section 4 coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act:

“It was good news, I think, for the South in that [the court found there was] not sufficient evidence to justify treating them disproportionately than, let’s say, Philadelphia or Boston or Los Angeles or Chicago,” Sessions said, according to Roll Call. When pushed on whether he supports preclearance, Sessions said: “Well, I don’t think it should exist in Shelby County. Shelby County has never had a history of denying voters and certainly not now.”

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 5-4 decision in 2014 holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows closely held, for-profit corporations to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees based on religious objections:

“Hobby Lobby is a family business that objected to a federal government mandate requiring them to pay for drugs like Plan B and Ella, which they argued was a violation of their pro-life religious views,” Sessions said. “Today’s ruling is an important step towards restoring the religious freedoms that the President’s health care law suppressed. And it is yet another rebuke for an Administration that does not recognize the limits on its power.”

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the 5-4 decision in 2012 upholding Affordable Care Act’s individual requirement to purchase health insurance:

“The majority redefines a provision of the law that declares a mandate to be a tax. I am very troubled by this,” Sessions said in a statement. “Scholars will give great thought to what the Court has done and I am afraid it will be concluded that this is a legal sleight of hand rather than a principled decision. It is particularly remarkable that the four most activist members of the Court did not conclude that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause. It would be hard to see any limits on the Commerce Clause if this mandate is not deemed to be outside its bounds.”

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 5-4 decision in 2010 that invalidated limits on independent corporate and union campaign expenditures:

“We cannot allow the government to suppress speech simply because it is near an election time and corporations have given some money to put it on,” Sessions said in a floor speech. “I think that is not healthy. In fact, I think our whole approach to constricting and limiting people in pooling their money and running ads is clearly in conflict with the First Amendment.”

Kelo v. City of New London, the 5-4 decision in 2005 upholding city’s use of eminent domain for economic development as “public use”:

“The Constitution said you could take property for public use. The court felt that was too restrictive, basically, and a majority just changed it to say you could take property for a public purpose, which includes some private redevelopment of the area in their minds. See, that’s not founded in the Constitution. That’s an overreach, in my opinion.”

On Supreme Court nominees:

Samuel Alito Jr.

“Well, right now there is a strong feeling, that I share, that the court on some very important issues that people care deeply about is exceeding its authority. They’re calling on me and those of us in Congress to do something about it,” Sessions said in 2006. “And Congress, I think, has shown restraint. But I hope that when you become a member of this august body, the Supreme Court, and I believe you will, that you will take those concerns with you and share with the members of the court that their views on policy issues are of no greater value than mine, frankly, at least in my opinion they’re not, and that the Congress has been showing some restraint here. But we really want the court to be more modest and to draw back from some of its intervention and policy issues that are causing much angst around the country.”

Sonia Sotomayor

“I don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism,” Sessions wrote in 2009 in USA Today. “She has evoked its mantra too often. As someone who cares deeply about our great heritage of law, I must withhold my consent.”

Elena Kagan

“I think a real lawyer or experienced judge who had seen the courtroom and the practice of law would not have tried as she did to float their way through a [Senate confirmation] hearing in the manner that she did,” Sessions said in 2010. “Her testimony failed to evidence an understanding of the gravity of the issues with which she was dealing and the important nature of her role in them.”