The Curious Usage of "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III"

What's in a case name?

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 17, 2018

In reviewing decisions recently, I came across an interesting phenomenon. The name of the attorney general of the United States is used in a curiously formal manner in some rather significant cases.

On his home page on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website, he is identified as just "Jeff Sessions". Such republican simplicity is consistent with a man who is quite modest therein about his upbringing and achievements:

Mr. Sessions was born in Selma, Alabama, on December 24, 1946, and grew up in Hybart, the son of a country store owner. Growing up in the country, Sessions was instilled with certain core values — honesty, hard work, belief in God and parental respect — that define him today. In 1964, he became an Eagle Scout and thereafter received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. After attending school in nearby Camden, Sessions attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969. He received a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Alabama in 1973. Sessions served in the United States Army Reserve from 1973 to 1986, ultimately attaining the rank of Captain. He still considers that period to be one of the most rewarding chapters of his life.

Sessions' interest in the law led to a distinguished legal career, first as a practicing attorney in Russellville, Alabama, and then in Mobile. Following a two-year stint as Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama (1975-1977), Sessions was nominated by President Reagan in 1981 and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, a position he held for 12 years. Sessions was elected Alabama Attorney General in 1995, serving as the State's chief legal officer until 1996, when he entered the United States Senate.

Of course, formally, he is no more "Jeff Sessions" than I am "Art Arthur". As the White House website properly identifies him, he is actually "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III", although the biography thereon appears to have been cribbed off of the DOJ website.

Curiously enough, the attorney general's full name is an appellation that has brought about some level of attention, if not opprobrium. The Progressive ("A voice for peace, social justice, and the common good") in a January 2017 article contends that his grandfather (the first Jefferson Beauregard Sessions) "was named Jefferson (in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) Beauregard (in honor of acclaimed Confederate General Pierre Beauregard) Sessions." That contention is repeated in a July 2017 opinion piece in Newsweek, without attribution, but there is no reason not to believe it is true.

It is a name that has curiously been used against the attorney general even before he assumed that role. As the BBC reported:

When Jeff Sessions entered the Senate Committee chambers for his attorney general confirmation hearings, he was greeted by two protesters in the audience posing as Ku Klux Klan members, addressing him by his very southern-sounding first and middle names:

"Jefferson Beauregard, you speak for the people," they shouted.

That article noted that then-Sen. Sessions addressed the issue of his own name at that hearing:

The most telling moment early in the proceedings was when fellow southern Senator Lindsey Graham questioned Jeff Sessions about how he felt being accused of racism.

"When you have a southern name and come from South Alabama, that sounds worse to some people," he said, as Sen Graham nodded in agreement.

Interestingly, variations of Jeff Sessions' name appear in some unusual case contexts. According to Westlaw, there are 555 cases that reference just "Jeff Sessions". An additional 103 cases involve variations of "Jefferson Sessions", most without the suffix "III". There are 47 cases, however, that include the attorney general's full name, and 40 that identify him as "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III". (As an aside, one case (Salazar v. DuBois) identifies as a defendant "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions II", but the subject still appears to be the attorney general, not his father).

While those 40 cases are a somewhat mixed bag, a number of them are significant from an immigration standpoint. Nine of them (various rulings in City of Chicago v. Sessions, City of Philadelphia v. Sessions, and City and County of San Francisco v. Sessions) involved limitations on the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants Program ("JAG Program") to so-called sanctuary cities.

And two of those cases were the district court and circuit court decisions in Int'l Refugee Assistance Project [IRAP] v. Trump, cases involving the so-called "travel ban". That decision was vacated and remanded by the Supreme Court for further consideration in light of Trump v. Hawaii on June 28, 2018.

Generally, the plaintiffs filing the matters get to identify the parties. Linking the attorney general to his full name may simply be good manners. Something else may be afoot, however, as then-Sen. Sessions suggested to Sen. Graham.

For example, take the District Court case in IRAP. Also named therein are Donald J. Trump (not "Donald John Trump"), then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke (not "Elaine Costanzo Duke"), then-Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson (not "Rex Wayne Tillerson"), and "Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence" (not "Daniel Ray Coats"). But he is "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III". Curious. As they used to say on "Sesame Street", however, "one of these things is not like the others."

Even more curious is the latest decision in City and County of San Francisco, a case that I discussed in an October 10, 2018, post. As I stated:

In an order filed October 5, 2018, Judge William H. Orrick III of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the Department of Justice (DOJ) could not prevent state and local governments that have adopted "sanctuary city" statutes and ordinances from receiving federal grants under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant ("Byrne JAG") program. As part of that order, Judge Orrick declared 8 U.S.C. § 1373 unconstitutional.

In making that statement, I was both too formal, and not formal enough. I was not formal enough because Judge William H. Orrick III of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is really "William Horsley Orrick III", according to the Federal Judicial Center, (or "The Scion of San Francisco" according to Law360). But notwithstanding the fact that he did the honors for "Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III", he simply signed his order "William H. Orrick, United States District Judge".

There is something unfair, however, criticizing a person (or worse, mocking them) because of his or her name. Unless you have changed it (and most people don't), you are stuck with someone else's decision as a personal identifier for the rest of your life. "Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III" is no more responsible for his "southern-sounding" name than "William Horsley Orrick III" is for his, or I for mine.

Oh, and for the record, Jeff Sessions named his son "Sam", according to the DOJ.