Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today chaired a full committee hearing entitled “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=4519 .” The witness for the hearing was Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez of Maryland.
“The Civil Rights Division has a proud tradition of fighting to enforce our nation’s anti-discrimination laws in the areas of voting rights, civil rights, housing, elections, employment, and hate crimes. However, during the last administration the Division had an alarming lack of civil rights enforcement and multitude of politicization; so much so that their own Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General began independent investigations of the political appointees at the Department of Justice.
“Between 2001 and 2006, the voting section failed to file any cases on behalf of African American voters. During that same time period there was one case – just one case – filed for minority vote dilution. In 2008, in the height of the economic downturn and housing collapse, the Division played no role in holding lenders accountable for discrimination. Disability lawsuits declined almost 50% under the Bush administration and in 2006, only 10 hate crimes were prosecuted; the lowest number of hate crimes cases brought in more than a decade.
“In stark contrast to his immediate predecessors, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez and the Civil Rights Division are taking action to enforce our laws and protect our citizens. We heard today how the Housing and Civic Enforcement Section has initiated 215 matters, filed 46 lawsuits, including 25 pattern or practice cases and entered into 42 consent decrees. They have created a Fair Lending Unit within the Housing Section to combat financial crime. The Housing section has initiated 38 lending discrimination matters.
“The Civil Rights Division also has filed 19 hate crimes cases and 29 employment related lawsuits during just the first year of the Obama Administration – the largest number ever filed by the Division in a single year. The Division’s Disability Rights Section filed 12 lawsuits and reached 39 settlement agreements during the first year of the Obama Administration. With the wounds of previous inactivity still fresh in our mind, it is refreshing to see the Civil Rights Division actually enforce our civil rights laws.”
Other examples of renewed activity within the Civil Rights Division include:
· On March 4, 2010 AIG and the financial fraud enforcement taskforce reached an agreement to resolve allegations that they engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African American borrowers. They agreed to pay a minimum of $6.1 million dollars. This case was brought under the federal Fair Housing and Equal Credit Opportunity Acts. This settlement marks the first time the Justice Department has held a lender responsible for failing to monitor its brokers to ensure that borrowers are not charged higher fees because of their race.
· The Supreme Court upheld the Department of Justice’s interpretation of Title II of the ADA in the 1999 case of Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. Title II mandates community integration of persons with disabilities when appropriate, rather than keeping them confined in mental institutions. The Supreme Court upheld that mandate, ruling that Georgia’s department of human resources could not segregate two women with mental disabilities in a state psychiatric hospital long after the agency’s own treatment professions had recommended their transfer to community care.
· DOJ has begun to improve its work on enforcing Olmstead. DOJ initiated and settled a case with the state of Texas concerning the care given to residents of the state’s 13 facilities for persons with developmental disabilities. DOJ also filed three strong briefs in Olmstead cases at the end of November and they have continued its “Project Civic Access (PCA), an initiative to ensure that localities across the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
· The federal government has reached an agreement with a New York school district accused of ignoring complaints that other students were harassing a teenager because he acted effeminate. This is the first Title IX case interpreted to protect LGBT students brought by DOJ since the Clinton Administration.