Biography: Senator John Cornyn
Senator Cornyn was born in Houston on February 2, 1952, the second of three children of Gale and John Cornyn, both native Texans.
Senator Cornyn’s father was a B-17 pilot in World War II, serving in the Army-Air Corps, and was shot down on his twenty-sixth mission over Germany. He was captured and spent the last four months of the war in a German prisoner of war camp. After the war, he returned to the United States, specifically, Corpus Christi, Texas, where he met Gale. Senator Cornyn’s father went to college and dental school on the G.I. Bill. After a combined 31 years of military service, Dr. Cornyn retired to teach at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Senator Cornyn’s mother, Gale, was born and raised in Robstown, Texas. Although most of her time was spent rearing her children, she worked part time in the real estate business, selling homes in San Antonio.
Raised as he was in a military family, Senator Cornyn traveled a great deal as he was growing up. At various points, he and his family lived in Houston, El Paso, and San Antonio, Texas; Biloxi, Mississippi; Kensington, Maryland; and Tokyo, Japan.
Senator Cornyn graduated from high school in Japan. He was on the wrestling team and the track and field team, where he threw the discus and shot put. Senator Cornyn played the trombone in school from 3rd grade until he graduated from high school in 1969. While in Japan, he climbed Mt. Fuji in a pair of old cowboy boots, which produced painful blisters, a mistake he never made again!
College, Work, Law School
Senator Cornyn attended Trinity University in San Antonio, where he initially majored in biology and planned to become a physician. After current events and writing captured his imagination, however, he changed his major to journalism and began writing for the school newspaper, The Trinitonian.
During college, Senator Cornyn was a member of the Chi Delta Tau fraternity and was very active in intramural sports: he played intramural football, basketball, and racquetball and was named “outstanding intramural athlete” his senior year. He graduated from Trinity in 1973 with a Bachelors Degree in Journalism.
Upon graduation from college, Senator Cornyn looked around for journalism jobs, but ultimately decided to go into the real estate business. Unfortunately, his timing was very bad: money was tight and interest rates were in the high double digits. Because he worked solely on commissions, it was a challenging time, financially, but a good time to reassess what he wanted to do with his life. Law school beckoned.
Senator Cornyn entered St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio in 1974, which proved to be a pivotal experience. He thrived in law school, making good grades, serving on the Law Journal, and being elected as President of the Student Bar Association. He received his Juris Doctor Degree from St. Mary’s in 1977.
Early Career & Family Life
At the age of 25, Senator Cornyn met his future wife, Sandy Hansen, on a blind date, in 1977. Sandy had been teaching middle school in the South San Antonio School District, but had quit to pursue another college degree. Senator Cornyn and Sandy were married in 1979.
Sandy was born in Wisconsin, raised in San Antonio, and holds two undergraduate degrees: the first, a double major in English and History from the University of Texas at Austin, and the second, in Business Administration from Incarnate Word College in San Antonio. She has worked as a teacher, accountant, executive assistant, job trainer, and advocate for senior health care issues, and has been an active partner and advisor to her husband throughout his political and professional life.
Senator Cornyn and Sandy welcomed the birth of their first daughter, Danley, in 1981. She was followed 16 months later by a sister, Haley, in 1982.
Texas District Judge (1985–1991)
At the urging of local Republicans, Senator Cornyn ran for state district judge in Bexar County in 1984 at the age of 32. Determined to fight the “good ole boy” system and restore the reputation of fair and impartial justice to the courthouse, Senator Cornyn gave up a comfortable law practice to don the judicial robe in 1985. As Judge of Texas’ 37th District Court from 1985 until 1989, Senator Cornyn primarily presided over civil law suits, including domestic relations cases. While he was a district judge, Governor Clements appointed him to additional duties as Presiding Judge for the Fourth Administrative Judicial Region. In that capacity, then-Judge Cornyn was responsible for judicial administration in 22 South Texas counties.
Texas Supreme Court (1991–1997)
Having earned the reputation as a reformer, Senator Cornyn turned his sights on ethical problems in the Texas Supreme Court. In 1987, CBS News ran a now-famous expose “Justice for Sale?” focusing on corrupt practices of 2 members of the Texas Supreme Court.
Senator Cornyn knew that Texans deserved better, and so he ran for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court and won in 1990. He brought his successful record of reform from San Antonio to Austin, and was re-elected in 1996. While on the Court, he earned a Masters of Law degree (LL.M.) from the University of Virginia in 1995.
Texas Attorney General (1999–2002)
After eight years pursuing reform of the judicial branch of Texas government, Senator Cornyn answered the call to help reform the executive branch. In 1997, the Texas Attorney General came under fire for his ties to five private contingency-fee lawyers, known as the “Tobacco Five” for their involvement in the states’ suit against the tobacco industry. Shortly after Senator Cornyn announced his candidacy for the office, the embattled incumbent Attorney General resigned, was later indicted and convicted, and ultimately served a federal prison sentence.
In 1998, Senator Cornyn became the first Republican elected Attorney General of Texas since Reconstruction and was sworn in by Governor George W. Bush. The Texas Attorney General is the state’s chief law enforcement officer, and, among other duties, is responsible for child support enforcement, consumer protection, crime victim services, and investigating and prosecuting selected criminal cases, including cyber crimes. The Attorney General provides legal representation to more than 300 state agencies.
As Attorney General, Senator Cornyn argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the first time in 20 years that the Texas Attorney General had personally appeared before the Court. One case defended the prison sentence of a child’s step father, who was guilty of repeated sexual abuse, and the other defended the right of Texas school children to conduct voluntary prayers before high school football games.
During his tenure in the Attorney General’s office, Senator Cornyn directed many initiatives vital to the interests of Texas families. He dramatically improved child support collection, and in 2002 Texas collected 86 percent more than it had four years before. His office also obtained more than $4 million in civil penalties from unscrupulous nursing home operators and levied penalties against sweepstakes promoters who defrauded consumers.
U.S. Senate (2002–)
John Cornyn was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, succeeding Senator Phil Gramm. He quickly earned the respect of his colleagues, and his appointment to the Senate Armed Services Committee occurred a little more than a year after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His initial committee assignments also included the Judiciary and Budget committees, and he still serves on these committees. In 2006, he was elected to the Republican Senate Leadership team as Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
Senator Cornyn has earned the respect of his fellow Texans by bringing successful state policies to Washington. He has been a champion of transparency in government, and he successfully cosponsored the Open Government Act of 2007. He has sponsored legislation modeled on the Texas Sunset Commission and supports a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Texans judged Senator Cornyn’s first term a success and reelected him in 2008.
Senate Republicans have given Senator Cornyn even more responsibility in his second term, asking him to serve as the Minority Whip for the 113th Congress. He also serves on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which shares jurisdiction over health care legislation, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which questions President Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States. On the Judiciary Committee, he serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security.
Following his successful re-election campaign in 2008, Senator Cornyn’s Republican colleagues chose him to serve as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), an organization that recruits and supports Republican candidates for Senate seats nationwide. Under Senator Cornyn’s leadership, Senate Republicans grew their caucus from 40 in 2008 to 45 following the 2012 election.
Causes and Caucuses, Awards and Honors
In addition to his committee responsibilities, Senator Cornyn is the Chairman of the Senate India Caucus, Chairman of the Senate RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Caucus, Vice Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs. He is also a member of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force, the Congressional Oversight Group on Trade, and the President’s Export Council.
Senator Cornyn has received numerous awards and recognitions while in public service. These include the 2005 Border Texan of the Year Award; the Children’s Champion Award from the National Child Support Enforcement Association; the Friend of Farm Bureau Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation; the Fighter for Free Enterprise Award from the Texas Association of Businesses; the Guardian of Small Business Award from the National Federation of Independent Businesses; the Latino Leadership Award from the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders; and the International Leadership Legislative Award from the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce.
Two of his alma maters have honored him as their distinguished alumnus; St. Mary’s in 1994, and Trinity in 2001. Also in 2001, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas presented Senator Cornyn with the James Madison Award for efforts to promote open government.
Senator Cornyn believes that the first duty of government is to protect and defend individual liberty.
Senator Cornyn believes in a strong national defense. He works to ensure that all our men and women in uniform have the tools and resources they need to win America’s wars, deter the enemies of freedom, and respond to any threat. He believes in peace through strength, and that America’s credibility as an ally and partner is the key to reducing the chance of future conflicts.
Senator Cornyn recognizes the power of individual entrepreneurs to create jobs and opportunities for themselves and for others. He champions low taxes, sensible regulation, and open markets for America’s workers, farmers, and ranchers. He believes government must not pick winners and losers in the marketplace, but instead ensure maximum opportunity for everyone to participate in the next chapter of American economic expansion.
Senator Cornyn respects the values that have strengthened families and communities for generations and reduced dependence on government. He honors the sanctity and dignity of human life. He believes judges must uphold the fundamental liberties codified in our Bill of Rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to keep and bear arms.
Sandy Cornyn is the Treasurer of the Spouses of the Senate Club, a group that meets weekly while the Senate is in session. Sandy is also a member of the Texas Federation of Republican Women and the Austin Republican Women’s Club. She is a member of Congressional Families Action for Cancer Awareness. Sandy is also active in International Club I, which consists of spouses of members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the United States Government, as well as those of the Washington Press and Diplomatic Corps, and promotes goodwill and international understanding.