Best and Worst in Race and the Law 2011, Continued

January 3, 2012
Guest Post

Over at The Root, University of Maryland Law Professor Sherrilyn Ifill lists some of her picks for "The Best and Worst of 2011” in “Race and the Law.” She continues her list below, with some additional selections from this past year.

Best Department of Justice Action: The DOJ’s decision to go after Countrywide financial for discriminatory lending practices, culminated last week in a massive $335 million settlement. The action revealed that Countrywide had discriminated against at least 200,000 African American and Latino borrowers, by either steering minority borrowers with good enough credit to obtain prime lending loans into costly sub-prime loans, or by offering sub-prime loans with harsher lending terms to black and Latino borrowers, than to white borrowers with comparable credit profiles. This case is so important because the effort by conservatives to paint the financial crisis as the result of sub-prime lending to minorities, has glossed over the fact that minority borrowers were largely victims, not beneficiaries, of sub-prime loans. Even within the sub-prime market, Countrywide and other lenders recognized that even more profit could be made by falling back on that old American standby – racial discrimination.

Worst Law Enforcement Official: Sheriff Joe Arpaio is known for his tough anti-illegal immigrant position in Maricopa County, Ariz. Now the Department of Justice has cited the pugnacious sheriff for racially targeting Latinos in his sweeps of communities in which his police force seeks out undocumented immigrants. The DOJ report, the result of a nearly three-year investigation, charges the Sheriff with fostering a “culture of bias” in law enforcement in the county. The unrepentant, nearly 80 year-old Sheriff has called the DOJ report “politically motivated,” and shows no signs of backing down.  Instead, he has announced his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry and vows to run for a fifth term in office. Latinos in Phoenix, where Arpaio has ruled the streets with the kind of aggressive swagger of Bull Connor, have filed a federal lawsuit charging the sheriff with ignoring the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that a police officer have probable cause before stopping and searching criminal suspects.

Best Law Enforcement Official: Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez  has restored the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to its rightful place at the federal government’s premier civil rights law enforcement organization. Lifting the Department from the depths to which it had sunk during the Bush years, when the likes of Monica Goodling and Bradley Schlotzman turned the Department into a repository for “loyal Bushies” with no demonstrated civil rights experience, Perez has aggressively focused the Department on its core mission – enforcement of our federal civil rights law.  Under Perez the Civil Rights Division has taken on the discriminatory lending practices of Countrywide Financial [see above], is investigating and challenging police corruption and brutality in departments from Puerto Rico  to Portland, and denied permission to South Carolina to impose government-issued photo ID requirements as a prerequisite to voting. Perez is leading the most robust, productive Civil Rights Division in decades.