Holder’s Civil Rights Move Echoes ARC’s Compact for Racial Justice

By Tammy Johnson Sep 02, 2009

Well, he’s done it now. First, Attorney General Eric Holder told the American public that they need to get real when it comes to race. And now he walks his talk by making the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division actually do its job. What a radical idea.   And Holder’s new directives? To expand the department’s reach, to hire more attorneys, and, as he told the New York Times, to "get back to what it has traditionally done," like protecting people’s voting rights and access to housing, employment and fair lending practices. But as Chuck D would say, "Hold it now!" Haven’t we heard this before?  Ten days after the historic election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, the Applied Research Center released the Compact for Racial Justice. The Compact specifically called on the Obama Administration to focus on the strengthening of the role of the Division of Civil Rights, the use of racial impact statements for major policy initiatives, and placing immigration reform policy squarely on the table.

Chief among the next President’s priorities should be refocusing the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is the federal government’s chief enforcer of laws. In particular, the DOJ’s Civil Rights division, which was established in 1957 during the era of massive civil rights changes, must reprioritize its original mission of fighting racial discrimination. As civil rights laws have expanded over the years, it is both natural and desirable that the DOJ’s mission has expanded to include fighting discrimination on other bases, such as disability. However, in recent years the DOJ’s Civil Rights division has shifted from being at the vanguard of championing the rights of the most vulnerable in our society and taking on those who perpetuate systemic discrimination …The next administration must also ensure that the civil rights enforcement divisions of the other federal agencies refocus on enforcing racial and other related social justice issues. Karin Wang, Esq. & Vincent Eng, The Compact for Racial Justice: Re-Envisioning Civil Rights

? We are a long way from sealing the deal, but progress has been made on all fronts. The Times reported that the division’s current chief, Loretta King, has urged "more aggressive enforcement of regulations that forbid recipients of taxpayer money from polices that have a disparate impact on minorities." And Holder himself is calling "for social changes with civil right overtones, like passage of a federal hate-crimes law, the elimination of the sentencing disparities between crack and power cocaine and greater financing for indigent defense." But we also know that Frederick Douglass was right: "Power concedes nothing without a demand." So we press on with the demands outlined in the Compact for Racial Justice: 1. Appoint fair mined federal district and circuit court judges, local judges who rule on numerous critical cases brought by civil rights lawyers throughout the country. 2. Prioritize the improved and expanded collection of federal data on race, ethnicity, national origin, primary language and religion. An immediate priority should be ensuring the success of the 2010 Census and the overall quality of Census data collection. 3. Ensure that the civil rights enforcement divisions of the other federal agencies refocus on enforcing racial and other related social justice issues (e.g., access for persons with limited English proficiency or physical disabilities). We’ve got a long road ahead of us. It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones walking it.