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The Civil Rights Division’s Commitment to Guaranteeing Nondiscrimination in the Use of Public Funds
July 22nd, 2013 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Matthew Colangelo.

The Civil Rights Division released today a report describing its accomplishments from 2009 to 2013 in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VI is a landmark civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. In his message to Congress proposing the enactment of this provision, President John F. Kennedy explained: “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, or results in racial discrimination.”

The Civil Rights Division plays three roles in making sure that President Kennedy’s promise is kept: First, the division leads and coordinates enforcement of Title VI across all 30 federal agencies that award federal assistance. Second, it reviews the Justice Department’s own recipients of financial assistance – including correctional facilities, state and local law enforcement agencies and state courts – to ensure they do not engage in unlawful discrimination. And third, when litigation becomes necessary to protect individual rights, the division represents the interests of the United States in court.

The report published today describes the critical role Title VI plays in ensuring that everyone in America can share equally in the benefits of federally-funded programs, and that no person is subjected to discrimination because of race or national origin. Just a few examples of this work:

• In 2012, the Civil Rights Division found that the juvenile justice system in Shelby County, Tenn., violated the rights of African American children under both Title VI and the Constitution. To resolve these violations, the division negotiated an agreement to address disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system, and to ensure that children are not referred to juvenile court based on their race.

• The division has developed an across-the-board approach – combining guidance, technical assistance, collaboration and enforcement action where necessary – to ensure that individuals with limited English proficiency can participate meaningfully in state court proceedings. The stakes are too high in the courtroom context – whether they involve child custody, domestic violence, foreclosure, wage claims, or criminal prosecution – for parties or witnesses to be excluded because of their national origin. Title VI safeguards these rights.

• Through the Federal Coordination & Compliance Section, the division partners every day with other federal agencies to ensure the consistent and effective enforcement of Title VI across the federal government, including by providing guidance on how to strengthen agency compliance programs.

More examples are described in today’s report  and in the division’s recent Accomplishments Report. These efforts and accomplishments reflect significant progress in enforcing Title VI in recent years; but as Attorney General Eric Holder has noted, important work remains to combat racial discrimination – and the Justice Department “will keep striving to realize President Kennedy’s inspiring vision.”

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