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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Election Consequences: Civil Rights Revived!!!!

Elections do have consequences. Having Barack Obama as president means that the people he put in high places can execute the "change we can believe in." Had Eric Holder been attorney General the disgrace of the "Jena Six" would have taken a very different turn. Beginning with Reagan, the Republican party has been hostile to civil rights. It has served white nationalist interests. As such, the policies and and practices that were intended to be civil rights protections were either over-turned or ignored. Except for the brief spell of the Clinton administration, the last 30 years have the clock turned back on civil rights. The attacks on affirmative action were just the more blatant examples of this roll back. All enforcement stopped.

Another face of this roll back has been in Republican appointments, not the least of which was George H.W. Bush's appointment of Clarence Thomas to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to replace the legendary civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall. This was likely the most cynical appointment ever made to the Supreme Court. Seemingly Associate Justice has a disdain for anything black, that may even include himself. As Jeffrey Toobin has stated, Thomas is the most conservative justice on the court. He would like to turn the clock back to BEFORE the New Deal. Apart from his extreme right wing views on race, there is a question as to his competence. On the court 19 years, no questions. In addition to his questionable competence and right wing opinions, many who have served him as clerks have gone on to promote some of the most backward ideas. Laura Ingraham the right wing talk show hosts was served on the Dartmouth before becoming a law clerk for Clarence Thomas. John Yoo of torture memo fame was one of Thomas' law clerks. Wendy Long, another Thomas former clerk took the lead in right wing law circles in opposing the appointment of Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor. Thomas has nurtured some some of the nation's most right wing lawyers whose ideas are an anathema to civil rights.

Thanks to the election of America's first African American president, paraphrasing Sojouner Truth "if the "Reagan Revolution" can turn the world upside down, it is up to Obama's "change we can believe in" to turn it right side up again." To have Eric Holder and other appointees in the Obama administration, who believe in social and economic justice in charge, will begin to restore the pursuit of justice by enforcing civil right laws having to do with equal opportunity. Essentially, a large part of restoring integrity when it comes to civil rights will rest with the Department of Justice. Eric Holder has the integrity and commitment to make a difference when it comes to protecting the rights of minorities. This must be done in the face of a desperate and shrill white nationalist resistance. RGN

September 2, 2009

Reviving Civil Rights

Few parts of the federal government veered more radically off course in the Bush years than the Justice Department, including its vital civil rights division. Attorney General Eric Holder has made clear that he intends to put the division back on track. That will not be easy, but restoring the nation’s commitment to fairness in voting, employment, housing and other areas is one of the new administration’s most important challenges.

The Bush administration declared war on the whole idea of civil rights, in a way that no administration of either party had since the passage of the nation’s civil rights laws in the 1960s. It put a far-right ideologue in a top position at the civil rights division and, as the department’s inspector general said in a scathing report, he screened out job applicants with civil rights sympathies.

The division abandoned its “historic mission,” notes John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund — enforcing civil rights laws, in areas from housing to employment. In some cases, like voting rights, it aggressively fought on the anti-civil-rights side.

It is heartening that the Obama administration has proposed substantially increasing the number of lawyers in the division. They will have plenty of work.

On voting, the division needs to drop the Bush-era obsession with the overblown problem of vote fraud and put the emphasis back where it should be — making sure protected groups are not denied the right to vote. It has to ensure that the voter rolls are not being illegally purged, and that political operatives are not engaging in dirty tricks to suppress the minority vote. It also needs to make state and local governments comply with the “motor voter” law, which requires registration to be available at motor vehicle bureaus and welfare offices.

On employment discrimination, the division should once again start bringing the sort of high-impact cases that the Bush administration abandoned.

On discrimination in education, it has to navigate the bad decisions the Supreme Court has handed down recently and provide concrete guidance for school districts on how to legally promote integration.

Perhaps no group was more abandoned for the last eight years than prisoners. The division should challenge the dangerously crowded and inhumane conditions that are increasingly becoming the norm in the nation’s prisons and jails. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights notes, a few strong lawsuits of this kind could prod many institutions to reform voluntarily.

The division should also tackle predatory lending and other financial bias against minorities. With millions of Americans facing foreclosure, this sort of discrimination looms especially large.

The Justice Department has enormous power under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to combat discrimination in any institution or program that receives federal funds. This authority is more important than ever with federal stimulus money flowing. The division should use it to ensure that public schools, hospitals, transportation systems and other institutions do not discriminate.

Gay men and lesbians still largely stand outside the division’s protection. If a hate crime law covering them is passed soon, as appears likely, the division should use it aggressively. Mr. Holder should also press Congress to pass the first federal law against job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This agenda would be difficult in the best of circumstances, but the civil rights division is working under the enormous handicap of being leaderless. Senate Republicans have put a hold on the nomination of Thomas Perez to head it. The reasons offered are spurious. Their real agenda seems to be impeding the division from doing its work. When Congress returns, Majority Leader Harry Reid should make sure Mr. Perez is quickly confirmed.

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