Tag Archives: civil rights

Attorney General Jeff Sessions dramatically re-shaping Justice Department…

VIA

For more than five hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat in a hearing room on Capitol Hill this month, fending off inquiries on Washington’s two favorite topics: President Trump and Russia.

But legislators spent little time asking Sessions about the dramatic and controversial changes in policy he has made since taking over the top law enforcement job in the United States nine months ago.

From his crackdown on illegal immigration to his reversal of Obama administration policies on criminal justice and policing, Sessions is methodically reshaping the Justice Department to reflect his nationalist ideology and hard-line views — moves drawing comparatively less public scrutiny than the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.

Sessions has implemented a new charging and sentencing policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible, even if that might meanminority defendants face stiff, mandatory minimum penalties. He has defended the president’s travel ban and tried to strip funding from cities with policies he considers too friendly toward undocumented immigrants.

Sessions has even adjusted the department’s legal stances in cases involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a way that advocates warn might disenfranchise poor minorities and give certain religious people a license to discriminate.

Supporters and critics say the attorney general has been among the most effective of the Cabinet secretaries — implementing Trump’s conservative policy agenda even as the president publicly and privately toys with firing him over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia case.

While critics lambaste what they consider misguided changes that take the department back in time, supporters say Sessions has restored a by-the-book interpretation of federal law and taken an aggressive stance toward enforcing it.

“The Attorney General is committed to rebuilding a Justice Department that respects the rule of law and separation of powers,” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement, adding, “It is often our most vulnerable communities that are most impacted and victimized by the scourge of drug trafficking and the accompanying violent crime.”

Immigration

In meetings with top Justice Department officials about terrorist suspects, Sessions often has a particular question: Where is the person from? When officials tell him a suspect was born and lives in the United States, he typically has a follow-up: To what country does his family trace its lineage?

While there are reasons to want to know that information, some officials familiar with the inquiries said the questions struck them as revealing that Sessions harbors an innate suspicion about people from certain ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement, “The Attorney General asks lots of relevant questions in these classified briefings.”

Sessions, unlike past attorneys general, has been especially aggressive on immigration. He served as the public face of the administration’s rolling back of a program that granted a reprieve from deportation to people who had come here without documentation as children, and he directed federal prosecutors to make illegal-immigration cases a higher priority. The attorney general has long held the view that the United States should even reduce the number of those immigrating here legally.

In an interview with Breitbart News in 2015, then-Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke favorably of a 1924 law that excluded all immigrants from Asia and set strict caps on others.

“When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy and it slowed down immigration significantly,” Sessions said. “We then assimilated through 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”

Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration who now works as chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Sessions seems to harbor an “unwillingness to recognize the history of this country is rooted in immigration.”

“On issue after issue, it’s very easy to see what his worldview is of what this country is and who belongs in this country,” she said, adding that his view is “distinctly anti-immigrant.”

Those on the other side of the aisle, however, say they welcome the changes Sessions has made at the Justice Department.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for moderating levels of immigration, said she would give the attorney general an “A-plus” for his work in the area, especially for his crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” his push to hire more immigration judges and his focus on the MS-13 gang.

“He was able to hit the ground running because he has so much expertise already in immigration enforcement and related public safety issues and the constitutional issues, so he’s accomplished a lot in a very short time,” Vaughan said.

Prior, the Justice Department spokesman, said, “Clearly having an immigration system that focuses on national security and the national interest should be a matter of importance to the nation’s highest law enforcement official.”

Police oversight, sentencing

Questions about Sessions’s attitudes toward race and nationality have swirled around him since a Republican-led Senate committee in 1986 rejected his nomination by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship, amid allegations of racism. In January, his confirmation hearing to become attorney general turned bitter when, for the first time, a sitting senator, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), testified against a colleague up for a Cabinet position. Booker said he did so because of Sessions’s record on civil rights.

Sessions ultimately won confirmation on a 52-to-47 vote, and he moved quickly to make the Justice Department his own. Two months into the job, he told the department’s lawyers to review police oversight agreements nationwide, currying favor with officers who often resent the imposition of such pacts but upsetting those who think they are necessary to force change.

Similarly, Sessions imposed a new charging and sentencing policy that critics on both sides of the aisle have said might disproportionately affect minority communities and hit low-level drug offenders with stiff sentences.

Allies of Sessions say the policy is driven not by racial animus but by a desire to respond to increasing crime. The latest FBI crime data, for 2016, showed violent crimes were up 4.1 percent over the previous year and murders were up 8.6 percent — although crime remains at historically low levels. The Bureau of Prisons projects that — because of increased enforcement and prosecution efforts — the inmate population will increase by about 2 percent in fiscal 2018, according to a Justice Department inspector general report.

Larry Thompson, who served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and is a friend of Sessions, said that although he disagrees with the attorney general’s charging policy, he believes Sessions was “motivated by his belief that taking these violent offenders off the streets is the right way to address the public safety issues.”

Civil rights, hate crimes

Sessions’s moves to empower prosecutors have led to a concerted focus on hate-crimes prosecutions — a point his defenders say undercuts the notion that he is not interested in protecting the rights of minorities or other groups. Prosecutors have brought several such cases since he became attorney general and recently sent an attorney to Iowa to help the state prosecute a man who was charged with killing a gender-fluid 16-year-old high school student last year. The man was convicted of first-degree murder.

But while civil rights leaders praised his action in that case, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that it “stands in stark contrast to his overall efforts” to roll back protections for transgender people.

Shortly after he became attorney general, Sessions revoked federal guidelines put in place by the Obama administration that specified that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity. In September, the Justice Department sided in a major upcoming Supreme Court case with a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because he said it would violate his religious beliefs.

Sessions recently issued 20 principles of guidance to executive-branch agencies about how the government should respect religious freedom, including allowing religious employers to hire only those whose conduct is consistent with their beliefs. About the same time, he reversed a three-year-old Justice Department policy that protected transgender people from workplace discrimination by private employers and state and local governments.

The Justice Department has similarly rolled back Obama administration positions in court cases over voting rights.

In February, the department dropped its stance that Texas intended to discriminate when it passed its law on voter identification. And in August, it sided with Ohio in its effort to purge thousands of people from its rolls for not voting in recent elections — drawing complaints from civil liberties advocates.

At a recent congressional hearing, Sessions said the department would “absolutely, resolutely defend the right of all Americans to vote, including our African American brothers and sisters.”

Critics say, though, that his record shows otherwise. “We are seeing a federal government that is pulling back from protecting vulnerable communities in every respect,” Clarke said. “That appears to be the pattern that we are seeing with this administration — an unwillingness to use their enforcement powers in ways that can come to the defense of groups who are otherwise powerless and voiceless.”

Newly discovered 1964 MLK speech on civil rights, segregation…

MLK speech, via DN

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I want to talk with you mainly about our struggle in the United States and, before taking my seat, talk about some of the larger struggles in the whole world and some of the more difficult struggles in places like South Africa. But there is a desperate, poignant question on the lips of people all over our country and all over the world. I get it almost everywhere I go and almost every press conference. It is a question of whether we are making any real progress in the struggle to make racial justice a reality in the United States of America. And whenever I seek to answer that question, on the one hand, I seek to avoid an undue pessimism; on the other hand, I seek to avoid a superficial optimism. And I try to incorporate or develop what I consider a realistic position, by admitting on the one hand that we have made many significant strides over the last few years in the struggle for racial justice, but by admitting that before the problem is solved we still have numerous things to do and many challenges to meet. And it is this realistic position that I would like to use as a basis for our thinking together tonight as we think about the problem in the United States. We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved.

Now let us notice first that we’ve come a long, long way. And I would like to say at this point that the Negro himself has come a long, long way in re-evaluating his own intrinsic worth. Now, in order to illustrate this, a little history is necessary. It was in the year 1619 when the first Negro slaves landed on the shores of America. And they were brought there from the soils of Africa. Unlike the pilgrim fathers who landed at Plymouth a year later, they were brought there against their wills. And throughout slavery, the Negro was treated in a very inhuman fashion. He was a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. The United States Supreme Court rendered a decision in 1857 known as the Dred Scott decision, which well illustrated this whole idea and which well illustrated what existed at that time, for in this decision the Supreme Court of the United States said, in substance, that the Negro is not a citizen of the United States, he is merely property subject to the dictates of his owner. And it went on to say that the Negro has no rights that the white man is bound to respect. This was the idea that prevailed during the days of slavery.

With the growth of slavery, it became necessary to give some justification for it. You know, it seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness. And this is exactly what happened during the days of slavery. There were those who even misused the Bible and religion to give some justification for slavery and to crystallize the patterns of the status quo. And so it was argued from some pulpits that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. Then, the apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword: “Servants be obedient to your master.” And one brother had probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. You know, Aristotle did a great deal to bring into being what we now know as formal logic in philosophy. And in formal logic, there is a big word known as the syllogism, which has a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. And so, this brother decided to put his argument for the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism. He could say all men are made in the image of God—this was a major premise. Then came the minor premise: God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro, therefore the Negro is not a man. This was the kind of reasoning that prevailed.

While living with the conditions of slavery and then, later, segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves. Many came to feel that perhaps they were less than human. Many came to feel that they were inferior. This, it seems to me, is the greatest tragedy of slavery, the greatest tragedy of segregation, not merely what it does to the individual physically, but what it does to one psychologically. It scars the soul of the segregated as well as the segregator. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, while leaving the segregated with a false sense of inferiority. And this is exactly what happened.

Then something happened to the Negro, and circumstances made it possible and necessary for him to travel more—the coming of the automobile, the upheavals of two world wars, the Great Depression. And so his rural plantation background gradually gave way to urban industrial life. His economic life was gradually rising through the growth of industry, the development of organized labor and expanded educational opportunities. And even his cultural life was gradually rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy. All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro in America to take a new look at himself. Negro masses all over began to re-evaluate themselves.

And then something else happened, along with all of this: The Negro in the United States turned his eyes and his mind to Africa, and he noticed the magnificent drama of independence taking place on the stage of African history. And noticing the developments and noticing what was happening and noticing what was being done on the part of his black brothers and sisters in Africa gave him a new sense of dignity in the United States and a new sense of self-respect. The Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children and that all men are made in his image, and that the basic thing about a man is not his specificity, but his fundamentum, not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin, but his eternal dignity and worth.

And so the Negro in America could now cry out unconsciously with the eloquent poet, “Fleecy locks, and black complexion cannot forfeit nature’s claim; Skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same,” and, “Were I so tall as to reach the pole, or to grasp the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul; the mind is the standard of the man.” And with this new sense of dignity and this new sense of self-respect, a new Negro came into being with a new determination to suffer, to struggle, to sacrifice, and even to die, if necessary, in order to be free. And this reveals that we have come a long, long way since 1619.

But if we are to be true to the facts, it is necessary to say that not only has the Negro re-evaluated his own intrinsic worth, the whole nation has come a long, long way in extending the frontiers of civil rights. I would like to mention just a few things that have happened in our country which reveal this. Fifty years ago, or even 25 years ago, a year hardly passed when numerous Negroes were not brutally lynched by some vicious mob. Fortunately, lynchings have about ceased today. If one would go back to the turn of the century, you would find that in the Southern part of the United States you had very few Negroes registered to vote. By 1948, that number had leaped to about 750,000; 1960, it had leaped to 1,200,000. And when we went into the presidential election just a few weeks ago, that number had leaped to more than two million. We went into that election with more than two million Negroes registered to vote in the South, which meant that we in the civil rights movement, by working hard, have been able to add more than 800,000 new Negroes as registered voters in the last three years. This reveals that we have made strides.

Then, when we look at the question of economic justice, there’s much to do, but we can at least say that some strides have been made. The average Negro wage earner who is employed today in the United States earns 10 times more than the average Negro wage earner of 12 years ago. And the national income of the Negro is now at a little better than $28 billion a year, which is all—more than all of the exports of the United States and more than the national budget of Canada. This reveals that we have made some strides in this area.

But probably more than anything else—and you’ve read about it so much here and all over the world, I’m sure—we have noticed a gradual decline, and even demise, of the system of racial segregation. Now, the legal history of racial segregation had its beginning in 1896. Many people feel that racial segregation has been a reality in the United States a long, long time, but the fact is that this was a rather recent phenomenon in our country, just a little better than 60 years old. And it had its legal beginning with a decision known as the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which said, in substance, that separate but equal facilities could exist, and it made the doctrine of separate but equal the law of the land. We all know what happened as a result of the old Plessy doctrine: There was always the strict enforcement of the separate, without the slightest intention to abide by the equal. And the Negro ended up being plunged into the abyss of exploitation, where he experienced the bleakness of nagging injustice.

And then something marvelous happened. The Supreme Court of our nation in 1954 examined the legal body of segregation, and on May 17th of that year pronounced it constitutionally dead. It said, in substance, that the old Plessy doctrine must go, that separate facilities are inherently unequal, and that the segregated child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law. And so, we’ve seen many changes since that momentous decision was rendered in 1954, that came as a great beacon light of hope into millions of disinherited people all over our nation.

Then something else happened, which brought joy to all of our hearts. It happened this year. It was last year, after the struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, that the late President Kennedy came to realize that there was a basic issue that our country had to grapple with. With a sense of concern and a sense of immediacy, he made a great speech, a few days before—rather, it was really on the same day that the University of Alabama was to be integrated, and Governor Wallace stood in the door and tried to block that integration. Mr. Kennedy had to have the National Guard federalized. He stood before the nation and said in eloquent terms the problem which we face in the area of civil rights is not merely a political issue, it is not merely an economic issue, it is, at bottom, a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and as modern as the Constitution. It is a question of whether we will treat our Negro brothers as we ourselves would like to be treated.

And on the heels of that great speech, he went in, recommended to the Congress of our nation the most comprehensive civil rights bill ever recommended by any president of our great nation. Unfortunately, after many months of battle, and for a period we got a little tired of that—you know, there are some men in our country who like to talk a lot. Maybe you read about the filibuster. And you know they get bogged down in the paralysis of analysis, and they will just go on and on and on. And they wanted to talk that bill to death.

But President Lyndon Johnson got to work. He started calling congressmen and senators in and started meeting day in and day out with influential people in the country and making it clear that that bill had to pass, as a tribute to the late President Kennedy, but also as a tribute to the greatness of the country and as an expression of its dedication to the American dream. And it was that great day last summer that that bill came into being, and it was on July 2nd that Mr. Johnson signed that bill and it became the law of the land.

And so, in America now, we have a civil rights bill. And I’m happy to report to you that, by and large, that bill is being implemented in communities all across the South. We have seen some surprising levels of compliance, even in some communities in the state of Mississippi. And whenever you can find anything right in Mississippi, things are getting better…