By Ed Diokno
One of the hallmark’s of President Obama’s administration has been the rebirth of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Under the leadership of Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, the division has been the tip of the spear in its aggressive defense of civil rights and pursuit of justice.
“For the past eight years, this Civil Rights Division has answered that same call to make the promise of justice real for every person in every community,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, during the division’s awards ceremonies
The Obama administration has pursued a record number of investigations of police departments, taken a more aggressive stance on enforcement of other civil rights laws and fighting for equal rights of LGBTQ people, immigrants, people of color, the disabled, women and children.
It wasn’t always that way. During the George W. Bush administration, DOJ attorneys were shifted away from the civil rights work to other divisions thereby weakening its effectiveness in fighting for the rights of, and ensuring equitable justice, for all Americans. It was a shadow of it’s former prominence that it enjoyed under President Bill Clinton.
Gupta, an Indian American attorney who was appointed to her post two years ago, will be replaced when the Trump administration takes over on Jan. 20 of next year.
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“The cause of justice is never static. It is always searching for the next barrier to dismantle, for the next right to vindicate and for the next freedom to secure,” said Gupta in what sounded like her farewell speech to the lawyers in her division.
“You are civil rights leaders in our day; you are trailblazers,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, who was also giving her last speech in front of the career lawyers and staff of the division.
“You open minds and change hearts through your unshakable commitment to fairness and justice, to opportunity and equality. That commitment is contagious – and your voice as the protectors of our fundamental rights is every bit as potent now and in the years to come as it has been over the years that have passed.”
President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Jeff Sessions for his new Attorney General and you can be sure he won’t pursue the same policies or have the same priorities as Holder or Lynch.
If Sessions becomes AG, he will most likely provide legal justification for some of the questionable promises that he made during his campaign including the rights, or lack of rights, of undocumented immigrants; the ban of Muslim immigration under the banner of homeland security; overturning the Affordable Care Act; and rationalizing the use of torture.
If Trump and Sessions follows the pattern of past Republican administrations, the Civil Rights Division will see its people transferred elsewhere, its budget cut drastically and the bright lights it enjoyed under Obama will be dimmed to obscurity.
Sensing the gloomy future of the division in a Trump administration, Gupta continued, “This work is never easy … Congress didn’t create the Civil Rights Division in 1957 to solve the easy problems. Congress created this division to tackle the toughest issues, to serve as an independent and forceful agency of justice and hope. You cannot be an agent of change without a deep reservoir of hope.
“It’s the hope that men and women today can build a more just, more inclusive and more free future for the children of tomorrow. It’s the hope that thanks to all of you in the Civil Rights Division, people will reap the benefits of this work for generations to come – in safer streets, in desegregated schools, in fair markets and in stronger communities.
“It’s the hope that despite the zigs and the zags of our nation’s history, you will continue to ensure that America marches forward, imperfectly yet inexorably. Hope fuels the struggle and the struggle fills us with hope,” she concluded.