Jeff Sessions

(CNN) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday brought up sheriffs' "Anglo-American heritage" during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington.

"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," Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement."

"We must never erode this historic office," Sessions continued.

Invoking "Anglo-American heritage" seems to have been an impromptu decision by the attorney general. A written version of the remarks says that Sessions was supposed to say: "The sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."

Ian Prior, a spokesperson for the DOJ, said in a statement that the term "Anglo-American law" is common parlance among lawyers and legal scholars, pointing to a number of opinions from the US Supreme Court.

"As most law students learn in the first week of their first year, Anglo-American law -- also known as the common law -- is a shared legal heritage between England and America. The sheriff is unique to that shared legal heritage. Before reporters sloppily imply nefarious meaning behind the term, we would suggest that they read any number of the Supreme Court opinions that use the term. Or they could simply put 'Anglo-American law' into Google," Prior said.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer used the term in a speech in 2016.

The concept of the office of sheriff -- being an independent, elected law enforcement entity -- originates in Anglo-Saxon England. The word "sheriff" combines the Anglo-Saxon words "shire," meaning "county," and "reeve," meaning "guardian," Cato analyst David Kopel notes in The Washington Post.

This story has been updated.

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