- Democratic U.S. congresswoman representing Alabama
- Member of the Congressional Black Caucus
- Contends that Voter ID laws are “about [voter] suppression, not protection”
- Supported President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration, which made millions of illegal immigrants eligible for work permits, tax rebates, Social Security cards, and protection from deportation proceedings
See also: Democratic Party Congressional Black Caucus
Born on January 1, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, Terri Sewell earned a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1986. During Sewell's freshman year there, Michelle Robinson—later to become First Lady Michelle Obama—served as her “Big Sister” in a university program that matched minority freshmen with upper-classmen mentors. After graduating from Princeton, Sewell went on to earn an MA from Oxford University in 1988 and a JD from Harvard Law School in 1992.
Upon completing her formal education, Sewell served as a judicial law clerk to Chief Judge U.W. Clemon in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. In 1994 she was hired as a securities attorney by the New York law firm of Davis, Polk & Wardwell, where she worked for more than a decade before becoming a partner in the Birmingham law office of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C.
In 2010 Sewell was elected, as a Democrat, to represent Alabama's 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she continues to serve as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Sewell has long opposed what she characterizes as “discriminatory” Voter ID laws that she claims are intended to prevent nonwhites from casting ballots in federal elections. “It's about [voter] suppression, not protection,” she avers.
When Republians in the fall of 2012 criticized U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice for having lied repeatedly about the circumstances surrounding the deadly September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks against a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, Sewell joined fellow Democrats Karen Bass, Marcia Fudge, Gwen Moore, and Eleanor Holmes Norton in condemning the Republicans for the “unfair attacks” they had directed against “a stalwart American” whom they also described as an “American treasure.”
Sewell was unfazed by a high-profile 2013 New York Times investigative report on the massive fraud permeating the so-called Pigford case where, on the basis of a 1997 federal lawsuit, tens of thousands of self-identified “minority farmers” had collected billions of dollars by alleging, falsely, that their past efforts to secure farming loans from the Department of Agriculture had been denied for racist reasons. In a panel discussion moderated by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, Sewell described the Times piece as a “gross mischaracterization” of the facts, though she failed to provide even a single example of where the article was mistaken. The consensus on the panel was that any criticisms of the Pigford handouts were rooted in racism.
Also in 2013, Sewell and three fellow House Democrats—Dina Titus, Marcia Fudge, and Zoe Lofgren—proposed legislation to create “feeding programs” that would expand the availability of taxpayer-funded school lunches to weekends and holidays throughout the academic calendar.
When the Supreme Court ruled in June 2013 that states could not make proof-of-citizenship a prerequisite for adding an individual's name to the voter rolls, Sewell hailed this “important victory for voters … across this nation whose right to vote has been under attack with discriminatory voter identification laws ...” But while the congresswoman saw the Court decision as a step in the right direction, she cautioned that “we must not forget that attempts to disenfranchise voters across this country will continue.”
In November 2014, Sewell supported President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), which made millions of illegal immigrants eligible for work permits, tax rebates, Social Security cards, and protection from deportation proceedings. By Sewell's reckoning, Obama’s decree would help “fix our nation’s deeply broken immigration system while urging Congress to do its job by acting through legislation.”
During her years in Congress, Sewell has voted:
- against several bills designed to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for abortion services, except in cases where the procedure is necessary to save the mother's life, or where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest (2011, 2014, & 2015);
- against reauthorizing the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school-voucher initiative in the nation's capital (2011);
- against permitting oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (2011);
- against barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (2011);
- against building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, to stop illegal immigration (2006); and
- against mandating that welfare recipients, in exchange for their benefits, be required to work or to at least look for employment (2013).
For additional information on Sewell's voting record on a range of key issues during her years as a legislator, click here, here, and here.
For additional information on Terri Sewell, click here.