Sheila Jackson Lee grew up in Queens in New York City and now lives in Houston. She was part of the first class of women to attend Yale University, eventually graduating with a degree in political science. She earned a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School.
Jackson Lee worked as an attorney and became chairperson of the Black Women Lawyers Association and president of the Houston Lawyers Association. In 1977 and 1978, she was a staff counsel for the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations, which looked into the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
After several failed election attempts in Houston, she was appointed a judge in Houston Municipal Court in 1987. Two years later, she won a seat on the Houston City Council, serving two terms.
She was elected to the U.S. House in 1994.
She and her husband, Elwyn, have two children.
Sheila Jackson Lee is a strong advocate for minority rights and liberal causes. She is a supporter of civil and human rights and claims authorship of a number of immigration bills.
She is co-chair of the Congressional Children's Caucus and has secured federal money to support the Children's Health Insurance Program and public schools. She initiated the Mae C. Jemison Grant Program, which works to bring more women into space aeronautics, and has supported women's health care issues and equal pay legislation.
When the federal government announced in 2012 that it would phase out funding for a Texas health program that serves 130,000 low-income women because of a state law that bars abortion-affiliated clinics from getting public money, Jackson Lee said she would negotiate with federal officials to ensure that the funds don't stop flowing.
She is founder of Congress' Pakistan Caucus, Afghan Caucus and Algerian Caucus. She has secured money for Sudanese refugees in Chad and African Union soldiers in Sudan.
Though she supported Hillary Clinton's presidential bid in 2008, she eventually embraced then-presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Jackson Lee took credit in 2009 for 30 earmarks worth almost $51 million to Houston, including $15 million for Houston's public transit system.
Her appearance at Michael Jackson's funeral in Los Angeles in the summer of 2009 raised eyebrows although she insisted the singer's family invited her. She made no apologies for taking the stage at Staples Center to exhibit a large framed congressional resolution honoring the dead pop star as a "world humanitarian." The resolution, however, stalled in Congress.
After a summer 2009 town hall meeting to discuss then-pending health care reform legislation, she took heat — fueled by a video posted on the Internet — for taking a cell phone call while being addressed by a constituent opposed to the legislation. Jackson Lee insisted she was multitasking.
She is known for giving frequent speeches, broadcast on C-SPAN, to an empty House chamber, and for her efforts to nab just the right seat at high-profile events to maximize on-camera time, fueling criticism that her political antics are more about style than substance.
Jackson Lee also is known for a demanding management style that has led to one of the highest staff turnover rates in Congress. She disputes the characterization.
Washingtonian magazine called her Capitol Hill's "biggest windbag" and Texas Monthly described her as "a royal pain." Yet in April 2009, Ebony magazine named her one of the top 150 most powerful African-Americans.
One of her most prominent roles in Washington is serving on the House Judiciary Committee. During her time in office, she has also supported NASA, in part because many of her district's residents work for the space agency.
Committee Assignments: Homeland Security; Judiciary
American Conservative Union Rating: 4
Americans for Democratic Action Rating: 90
Recent winning percentages for office currently held: 70% (2010), 77% (2008), 77% (2006).
(Last updated by Chris Tomlinson on June 4, 2012.)