02.24.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On The Service of Judge William K. Sessions III Senate Floor

For almost two decades, Judge William Sessions has served as a Federal judge for the District of Vermont.  Last month, Judge Sessions announced he would take senior status later this year.  I have worked with Senator Sanders, Representative Welch, and the Vermont Bar Association to convene a merit commission that will find highly-qualified candidates to serve on the Vermont District Court.  I know I speak on behalf of all Vermonters when I thank Judge Sessions for his years of distinguished public service and applaud him for agreeing to continue his judicial service after he takes senior status this summer.  Because of his continued dedication, Vermont will continue to have one of the most highly respected and extraordinarily capable jurists on the Federal bench.  I am proud to call Judge Sessions my friend, and honored to have cast my vote to confirm his nomination 18 years ago.  I ask unanimous consent to include in the Congressional Record a recent article from the Rutland Herald that recounts his many accomplishments. 

There are only two authorized district judgeships in Vermont, and so when President Clinton asked for my recommendation to fill a vacancy in my home state, I did not take this task lightly.  I knew that the people of Vermont deserved a judge with integrity, intelligence, and fairness.  During my time in private practice and as State’s Attorney in Vermont, I experienced firsthand the tradition of legal excellence we have in Vermont.  I know many Vermont lawyers who are among the best that this country has to offer, and Bill had earned a reputation as one of the finest trial lawyers in the State.  He was widely respected by prosecutors and defense lawyers, and by the plaintiff and defense bars alike.  He was praised by those who had been his co-counsel, by state and Federal judges and prosecutors, and even by those who had been his opposing counsel in court.  It was a privilege to submit his name to the White House for nomination to the U.S. District Court.  The Senate confirmed him unanimously on August 11, 1995.

Judge Sessions received his B.A. from Middlebury College in 1969. Following his graduation with honors from the George Washington University Law School in 1972, Judge Sessions served his country in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1977, and in active service from 1972 to 1973.  He also served as a law clerk to Judge Hilton Dier of the Addison County District Court.  Before his service on the Federal bench, Judge Sessions contributed to his community as an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School; in private practice, as the Executive Director of the Addison County Youth Services Bureau; and as a public defender in Addison County, Vermont. 

During his years of service on the Federal bench, Judge Sessions has worked tirelessly to ensure that all those who come before him are treated fairly and with dignity.  He is a judge who takes seriously his commitment to both justice and the American people.  He served for many years as a member of the Judicial Conference, composed of the leaders of the Federal judiciary.  

Judge Sessions also served for a decade on the United States Sentencing Commission, eventually serving as its chairman.  Three presidents—both Democratic and Republican—nominated him to this commission, and the Senate confirmed him unanimously each time.  As a commissioner, Judge Sessions made deeply significant contributions to American sentencing policy.  He played an important role in the reduction of the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.   He has done vital work to improve the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  This was especially important following a number of Supreme Court cases that gave judges more discretion in the sentences they impose.  Even after his time on the Sentencing Commission, Judge Sessions continued to work for better sentencing policy, publishing an article in a journal of the University of Virginia School of Law that explained how the three branches of government could work together to improve sentencing in America.

Despite his unflagging dedication to two difficult jobs, Judge Sessions still finds time on weekends to be at farmers markets around Vermont.  He is a familiar face at the booth for Blue Ledge Farm, a small Vermont dairy started by his daughter, Hannah, and son-in-law, Greg.  I mention this because it shows something important about Judge Sessions.  He has achieved great things over his career.  He is one of our country’s most respected jurists, a lawyer’s lawyer and a judge’s judge.  Despite this, he has remained connected to his community and his wonderful family. 

Judge Sessions understands that those privileged to serve in positions of trust must set an example that builds the public’s confidence.   The law is not self-executing.  It requires public servants like Judge Sessions who set the standard for dedication, fidelity and modesty.  I admire Judge Sessions for his connection to the community and his understanding of how his decisions affect everyday people, from all walks of life. He has said, “I take a great deal of pride in seeing that a little bit of Vermont takes place in the courtroom...Each defendant is treated respectfully. I think that’s how people treat each other in Vermont.”  Our justice system has benefited a great deal from Judge Sessions’ years of service.  I thank Judge Sessions for all he has done as a Federal judge, and thank him for continuing to serve as a model jurist. 

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