Civil Rights Division

  • September 12, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Dan Froomkin

    The local face of federal law enforcement in the Trump administration is white and male.

    As of this week, Trump has nominated 42 U.S. attorneys -- and 41 of them are men. Fully 38 of them are white men. There is one African-American.

    And there is not a single Latino.

  • February 13, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In reality most likely did not expect landmark reform of the filibuster to usher in halcyon days of bipartisanship over executive branch nominations in the Senate. Though that reform did help U.S. Senators overcome partisan-led obstruction of some of President Obama’s judicial nominations, such as those to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, it was hardly going to radically change the way the current Senate functions.

    There remain some executive branch positions that conservatives in the Senate see no urgency in filling, such as a leader for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. And so President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile, a highly regarded attorney especially in the civil rights field, was almost inevitable to draw some kind of opposition. Primarily some Senate Republicans and conservative pundits have sought to scuttle Adegbile’s nomination by disparaging some of his work at the venerable civil rights organization, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF). Specifically some opponents of Adegbile’s nomination argue he is unfit to serve because of LDF’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted killer facing a death sentence.

    But Adegbile’s nomination is advancing – the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote earlier this month moved his nomination to the Senate floor – and doing so because of widespread and bipartisan pushback from legal professionals and advocates.

    For example a letter from Supreme Court Bar attorneys of differing political persuasions exposed as wobbly the opponents’ arguments against Adegbile’s nomination. The group’s letter also highlighted the importance of ensuring constitutional due process in capital punishment cases. (Some Missouri state attorneys prosecuting death penalty cases would do well to read the letter for that reason alone.)

    The Supreme Court Bar’s lawyers noted that all the “federal courts reviewing Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case ruled, repeatedly and unanimously, that he was entitled to a new death sentencing hearing free of constitutional error.” Subsequently Abu-Jamal was resentenced to life in prison without chance for parole.

    But Adegbile’s leadership at LDF, where he also defended before the Supreme Court the Voting Rights Act, should not disqualify him from serving an important leadership role in the DOJ, the Supreme Court lawyers noted. “It is well-established that even the most unpopular defendant requires such representation, particularly when he or she is facing capital punishment.”

  • June 4, 2010
    Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez is bolstering the Civil Rights Division's efforts to enforce civil rights laws, reports The Washington Post. The newspaper notes that almost "70 percent of the [Division's] lawyers had left between 2003 and 2007, a mass exodus that came during allegations the Bush administration was politicizing hiring. Internal watchdogs concluded that the division's former head had refused to hire lawyers he labeled ‘commies' ...."

    In an interview with The Post, Perez (right) outlined some of his efforts to restore the department such as hiring new lawyers and ramping up enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. "We had to do some healing," Perez told the newspaper. "We had to restore the partnership between the career staff and the political leadership. And frankly, certain civil rights laws were not being enforced."

    Late last year, Perez gave a "60-day progress report" to an ACS gathering at the National Press Club, where he outlined the Division's efforts to strengthen enforcement of civil rights laws. During that address, Perez noted the internal Justice Department reports of politicization at the Division. "For eight years," Perez said, "the career staff was in most instances frozen out of the hiring process for career staff. Section chiefs were sometimes simply notified that a new lawyer or set of lawyers would start in their office the following week. Perhaps the most distressing fact of all is that 70 percent of the career attorneys working in the Civil Rights Division in 2003 had left by 2007."

    Video of Perez's ACS address is here.

  • January 11, 2010

    The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is once again "open for business," according to the division's new chief, Thomas Perez, in remarks to ACS members and covered live by C-SPAN.

    "In the first 60 days that I've been on the job, we have already done as much hate crimes activity as was done in the entire fiscal year of 2006. And by the way, that was a leap year. And we've done as much as was done in fiscal year 2007," Perez told an ACS audience at the National Press Club, in a YouTube clip now available here. "Don't listen to my words, look at our actions."

  • December 18, 2009
    Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez gave a "60-day progress report" to a gathering at the National Press Club hosted by ACS, saying that while strides have been made in advancing civil rights, much work remained to be done. In particular, Perez said that the Division needs to be rejuvenated and refocused, to protect and advance civil liberties.

    "It feels right to me that I should be giving my 60-day progress report to you, the American Constitution Society," Perez said. "When I consider ACS's own description of its mission - namely, to promote the values underlying our Constitution, including individual rights and liberties, and to being a force for improving the lives of all people, I realize how your mission and ours share a lot in common." Watch C-SPAN coverage of Perez's entire speech (right). A transcript of his remarks is here.

    Perez said that in two short months on the job he has learned that too many people are under the notion that a Civil Rights Division may no longer be needed. But while, there has been some progress in the area of civil rights, those advancements should not be cited as proof that all is well for the nation's minorities. Indeed, Perez ticked off a number of stories that one would think could not be a part of the nation's landscape in the 21st century.

    Perez said:

    While last year's historic election marked a triumphant moment in our nation's long, complex and often painful history of civil rights, it was not the culmination of our journey, but rather an important mile marker along the way. I would ask those who believe we have reached the ideal of a post-racial society to consider this: On the night that Americans elected Barack Obama our nation's first African American president, three men on Staten Island reacted to the news by going out into their community to find African-Americans to assault in retaliation. Or consider that while we have a Latina Supreme Court Justice, the first press release we issued during my tenure announced a guilty plea from a Louisiana man who could not stand to have three Hispanics living across the street, and so he drove them from their home with gunshots and then burned it to the ground.