I was pleased to read the contents of the letter that Barack Obama (D-IL) sent to Attorney General-Designate, Judge Michael Mukasey, asking him how he intends to protect the civil rights of all Americans if he is confirmed Attorney General. In recent years, there has been a systematic failure by the Department of Justice to exhibit any significant commitment to upholding civil rights – particularly in the cases of the photo identification requirement for voting in Georgia, the Jena 6 in Louisiana, the death of a young man at a boot camp in Florida, and concerns that Blacks have been steered into high-cost subprime loans.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Judge Mukasey:
I write to you at a moment in our nation’s history that is fraught with unprecedented legal challenges and constitutional questions – a moment that highlights the extraordinary importance of the position for which you have been nominated. By all accounts, your distinguished legal career reflects a commitment to our Constitution and the rule of law.
Unfortunately, this Administration – and your predecessors as Attorney General – have a poor track record in the area of investigating discrimination against racial minorities, while inexplicably focusing resources on a few, exceptional cases involving white victims. From attempts in Georgia to enact a voter identification requirement to the Jena 6 case in Louisiana to concerns that minorities have been steered into high-cost subprime loans, we have seen a systematic failure by the Department of Justice to exhibit any significant commitment to upholding civil rights.
At such a critical time in our nation’s history, we need an Attorney General determined to protect the rights of all Americans – in particular, those traditionally disadvantaged – and not someone who views his mission as serving as the President’s personal attorney. Since I am not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will not have the opportunity today to ask you questions about your views on civil rights.
For that reason, I ask that you provide responses to the following questions:
I believe that with the proper leadership, the Department of Justice can reclaim its historical leadership role in fighting racial discrimination and ensuring equal protection under the law. I appreciate your attention to my questions, and I look forward to your response. Thank you.
- In recent years, the Department of Justice has demonstrated a clear preference for investigating isolated examples of voter fraud, rather than more widespread allegations of disenfranchisement of minority voters. As Attorney General, will you commit to a program of enforcement that is aimed at enhancing, rather than diminishing, the ability of racial and ethnic minorities to vote? Will you commit to applying the Voting Rights Act to challenge voter identification laws such as those attempted in Georgia and other states?
- The Department of Justice seems to have weakened its stance on the enforcement of apparent racial profiling cases under 42 U.S.C 14141, which allows for civil lawsuits to be brought by the Department against racial profiling by our nation’s police departments. Will you commit to opening investigations and pursuing lawsuits against police departments that reveal a pattern or practice of police misconduct?
- In recent months, our nation’s attention has been focused on the racial strife in Jena, Louisiana, and the disparate treatment of six African American youths. As Attorney General, will you commit the investigative resources of the Civil Rights Division to ensuring the fair treatment and execution of the law in cases such as the Jena 6, as well as the recent acquittal by an all-white jury of eight prison guards accused of killing a young black male at a juvenile detention center in Florida?
- Several studies have found that black and Hispanic borrowers were more likely to be steered into high-cost subprime loans than other borrowers, even after controlling for factors such as income, loan size, and property location. Although multiple concerns have been raised in recent years about discrimination in the housing market, the number of housing cases filed by the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section has fallen from 53 in 2001 to 31 in 2006, and cases involving discrimination have fallen by 60%. In 2003, the Justice Department announced that it would no longer file disparate impact cases involving housing discrimination – a sharp break from DOJ’s longstanding and bipartisan policy to aggressively litigate these cases. In light of recent reports of stark racial disparities in the subprime lending market and the sharp drop in housing discrimination enforcement actions, what steps will you take to ensure that the nation's housing discrimination laws are vigorously enforced? Will you commit the Housing and Civil Enforcement Division to investigating whether the practices of the mortgage lending industry violate the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Fair Housing Act, or other federal antidiscrimination statutes?
- In 2002, the Bush Administration placed political appointees in charge of hiring new attorneys in the Civil Rights Division – departing from the longstanding practice of giving this hiring authority to career professionals. Since then, less than half of new hires in the Division’s important Appellate, Employment Litigation, and Voting Sections have had any prior civil rights experience – and less than a quarter have had any prior experience enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws. The others, according to a Boston Globe analysis, “gained their experience either by defending employers against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies.” Will you pledge to restore professionalism and end the practice of politicized hires within the Civil Rights Division? What specific steps will you take to reverse these trends in hiring?
- What is your opinion of the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, which I introduced in January 2007 and which recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee? Do you agree that this legislation is necessary?
United States Senator