Sessions' reference to 'Anglo-American' legal heritage concerns some groups

A DOJ official said it was a reference to common law legal heritage, not race.

"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," said Sessions, adding, "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

The term "Anglo-American law" is frequently used in legal circles as a synonym for "common law" and the term, as well as the role of sheriff in particular, has its roots in English customs and law.

A DOJ official told ABC News Sessions' comments were clearly a reference to the common law legal heritage and not in any way related to race.

The NAACP issued a response to the speech to The Washington Post in which it characterized the comment as "racially tinged," and said it should give "all people reason to worry."

"His decision to link the term Sheriff to some part 'of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement' is an unfortunate yet consistent aspect of the language coming out of the Department of Justice under his tenure," the statement continued, "and in the opinion of the NAACP, qualifies as the latest example of dog whistle politics."