Luther Johnson Strange III Luther Johnson Strange III (1953- ) served as a U.S. senator from February 9, 2017, to January 3, 2018, following his tenure as attorney general of Alabama from 2011-2017. Strange was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Robert Bentley when the serving senator, Jeff Sessions, was appointed U.S. attorney general in 2017. Strange was defeated in the subsequent special election by fellow Republican Roy Moore, who was in turn defeated in the general election by Democrat Gordon “Doug” Jones. Following this race, Strange has largely eschewed politics and returned to the private sector.
Luther Strange was born to Luther Johnson Strange Jr. and Amy Ruth (Batson) Strange in Birmingham, Jefferson County, and grew up primarily in Sylacauga, Talladega County, and Homewood, Jefferson County. His father graduated from the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Perry County, and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Strange attended public schools and in 1971 graduated from Shades Valley High School. During high school, he was considered a talented basketball player. His athletic record and imposing height of six-foot nine earned him the nickname “Big Luther,” which he would carry over into his political career. Strange won a basketball scholarship to Tulane University, where he earned his bachelor’s and law degrees. To help pay for law school, Strange worked for a year in the Merchant Marine. In 1981, he was admitted to the Alabama State Bar and married Melissa Young, with whom he would have two sons.
After law school, Strange worked for Sonat Offshore, a natural gas utility based in Birmingham and subsidiary of Sonat Incorporated. Through his legal work at Sonat, Strange established political connections and in 1985 became the head of the organization’s Washington D.C. office. There, Strange served as a lobbyist for Sonat and Transocean Offshore Drilling Company. In 1994, he left Sonat and became a partner at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, a law firm based in Birmingham and then established his own Birmingham-based firm, Strange LLC. While in private practice, Strange was routinely profiled and highlighted by legal journals as a top-tier legal mind and mentioned among the best lawyers in the state by Birmingham magazine.
Strange’s first foray into politics was an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2006, when he faced two of Alabama’s most prominent political dynasties. Strange bested George Wallace Jr. and future congressman Morris “Mo” Brooks in the Republican primary and then defeated Wallace in the Republican runoff. He narrowly lost the general election to Jim Folsom Jr., who had previously served as both lieutenant governor and governor.
In 2010, Strange challenged the incumbent attorney general, Troy King, whose standing among Republicans had been damaged by high-profile clashes with popular Republican governor Bob Riley. Both King and Riley opposed legalized gambling but differed over the legal status of electronic games of chance, such as bingo. Riley viewed all such machines as illegal, whereas King argued that some games were legal under Alabama law. King came under additional fire for accepting political support and campaign donations from gambling lobbyists. These clashes with Riley, coupled with criticism regarding unusually high pay for his staff, undermined King among Republicans. Strange also charged that King had been insufficiently aggressive in prosecuting political corruption. In part owing to these issues, Strange won a commanding victory in the primary and then won a landslide victory in the general election. He was reelected in 2014, easily defeating the heir to another Alabama political dynasty, state representative Joe Hubbard, great-grandson of Sen. Lister Hill.
Strange was an active attorney general, taking the federal government to court on multiple occasions. He played a leading role in disputes related to energy issues, such as federal distribution of offshore drilling royalties, arguing that the federal government had shorted the state. Strange additionally fought against the enforcement of federal mandates to reduce carbon emissions and vocally defended ExxonMobil regarding a federal investigation alleging that the company suppressed scientific findings related to climate change. Following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Strange served as the coordinating counsel for the Gulf Coast states seeking restitution from the company and won more than $2 billion for Alabama.
As attorney general, Strange generally took socially conservative positions. He disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled in favor of established marriage rights for same-sex individuals under the Fourteenth Amendment. His position, coupled with resistance by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, as well as a number of probate judges, resulted in delayed implementation of the ruling in some Alabama counties. Strange also opposed federal education directives regarding the treatment of transgender students concerning issues such as accessing restrooms matching their self-identified, rather than biological, sex.
Under Strange, the attorney general’s office oversaw the prosecution of numerous Alabama politicians for corruption, most notably House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn, Lee County. Another instance culminated in the 2014 Supreme Court case of Lane v. Franks, in which Strange argued before the Supreme Court. The case involved Central Alabama Community College, which had fired Suzanne Schmitz, a state representative, after a whistleblower discovered that Schmitz was being compensated for little to no work. The whistleblower was soon after fired, with the college president citing budget shortfalls and the whistleblower alleging political retaliation for their testimony and sued the president. Reaching the Supreme Court, Strange argued that the whistleblower was punished for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. The Court ruled unanimously in the whistleblowers’ favor, affirming that government employees’ speech made during a trial is protected speech, and they may not be fired for testifying. Owing to a lack of clarity regarding precedent, however, the whistleblower, Edward Lane, was awarded no damages for his firing. The Alabama legislature later passed laws largely forbidding members of the legislature from holding jobs in the public sector while in office. These high-profile cases contributed to the 2016 induction of Strange into the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame.
Strange’s tenure led to him being viewed as a strong candidate for higher office, and his time as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association from 2016 to 2017 bolstered this speculation. Following Sen. Jeff Sessions’s nomination by Pres. Donald Trump for U.S. attorney general, Strange announced his intention to seek the vacant Senate office regardless of whom Gov. Robert Bentley appointed to temporarily fill the position. By late January, Bentley had narrowed his list to six names, and after Sessions was confirmed, he announced his selection of Strange, who had a wide fundraising lead compared to the other declared candidates.
Luther Strange Swearing In The nomination proved a mixed blessing for Strange. He would hold the office until a special election could be scheduled, giving him time to prove his value to voters, but many saw the appointment as potentially problematic. Bentley was at the time embroiled in several scandals that would ultimately force his resignation, including accusations of an extramarital affair with a female aid and charges of campaign finance and ethics violations related to the affair. Prior to Strange’s appointment, the state legislature had launched an impeachment inquiry and the Alabama Ethics Commission was also investigating the allegations against Bentley. Strange, as attorney general, requested that the legislature delay their proceedings until his office concluded its investigation into a senior law enforcement officer who had been fired by Bentley for allegedly misusing state funds. (Bentley was reportedly angry with the officer for cooperating with the investigation into Bentley’s conduct. A grand jury declined to act on the allegations against the officer.) As a result, some observers viewed Bentley’s appointment of Strange as evidence of a quid pro quo. Furthermore, some speculated that with Strange leaving the attorney general office vacant, Bentley could appoint a supporter who would scuttle the investigations into his scandals. Other Strange allies viewed the appointment as poor optics and likely to represent a problem when he ran for a full term. Initially, prominent Republicans and conservative-leaning organizations such as the National Rifle Association enthusiastically rallied around Strange.
Once in the U.S. Senate, Strange positioned himself as an ardent conservative and ally of President Trump, siding with Trump on most high-profile bills. Their differences tended to involve foreign policy, as Strange was more interventionist compared to the president’s isolationism and on economic matters, with Strange occasionally opposing the president’s more ambitious spending proposals. During his short time in office, Strange introduced four pieces of legislation related to conservative causes, such as gun rights, strengthening the border, and opposition to abortion, but none became law.
Unsubstantiated speculation of a quid pro quo between Bentley and Strange led to calls for a quick special election rather than allowing Strange to serve until the upcoming midterms. The circumstances led to a slew of challengers, including state representatives, activists, and “perennial” candidates Roy Moore and Congressman “Mo” Brooks. Support from President Trump proved insufficient for Strange to connect with the populist mood of many Republican primary voters. His history as a lobbyist, connections to big business, and close ties to establishment Republicans gave opponents considerable fodder. Despite a long history of scandals and removal from office on two separate occasions, Moore emerged as his primary rival. Conservative evangelicals and a number of Trump’s political allies rallied around the former judge. Brooks meanwhile enjoyed the support of prominent populist Republicans who found supporting the controversial Moore to be unpalatable.
In the runoff, many observers assumed that Strange would prevail given Moore’s long history of controversies. Polling, however, consistently showed Moore as being well ahead, and on Election Day he triumphed with roughly 55 percent of the vote. Prior to the general election, additional accusations were made against Moore by several women claiming instances of sexual assault and improper behavior when they were teenagers and he was a bachelor in his thirties. Moore denied the allegations, but voters found them credible enough that the Democratic candidate, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones, narrowly emerged victorious, becoming the first Democrat to win a Senate race in the state in roughly 25 years.
After his primary defeat, Strange was considered a leading candidate for a mid-level political appointment by Trump. Southern political operatives reportedly lobbied on behalf of Strange, but nothing came of the speculation, and Trump soured on Strange following his defeat. Rather than remain in Washington to work as a lobbyist, Strange returned to Homewood to resume his legal practice and has thus far largely eschewed politics.
Outside of his public life, Strange has strongly advocated for young people to become civically engaged, and as an Eagle Scout, he is an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. Strange has served as a trustee of Talladega College and has been active in the Federalist Society, an organization of legal thinkers who primarily support conservative and libertarian interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. As a respected legal mind, Strange has published legal articles and taken part in roundtable discussions recorded by various legal publications for posterity. He remains active in civic affairs in his community.