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Attorney General Holder Marks 20th Anniversary of Historic Executive Order on Environmental Justice
February 11th, 2014 Posted by

Twenty years ago today, our nation took a significant step forward on the long road to securing a more just and equal nation.  On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, requiring every federal agency to address environmental justice in low-income communities and communities of color.  This order built on existing efforts by the administration, members of the legal community, environmentalists, advocates, and citizens at the time – as well as countless pioneers who had gone before – to remedy the health, safety, and economic consequences of environmental problems that disproportionately hurt historically disadvantaged communities.

Decades earlier, in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. consistently spoke out about the prevalence of pollution in low-income neighborhoods; the proximity of hazardous facilities to communities of color; and the dangerous and deplorable working conditions for Americans of modest means.  It was this work that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, first in March of 1968 to lead African American sanitation workers in a strike – and then, several days later, to take part in a march with these workers that was scheduled for April 5th – a day he would not live to see.

In the years that followed, countless Americans have been inspired by Dr. King and others to speak out, to engage, and – thanks to important directives like President Clinton’s Executive Order – to bring about once-unimaginable progress.  Yet, despite all that’s been achieved, research shows that low-income families and families of color are still more likely than other American families to find themselves living in communities with contaminated water and polluted soil.  Their neighborhoods are still more likely to be close to industrial waste sites and more vulnerable to the placement of landfills nearby.

That’s why the Department of Justice remains committed to advancing the aims of President Clinton’s Executive Order, and integrating environmental justice principles into its everyday work and mission.  Many examples of how the Department has moved, in recent years, to reinforce and bolster the objectives of the Executive Order can be found in our third Implementation Progress Report on Environmental Justice, which we are releasing today.  From working collaboratively with our client agencies to ensure that environmental justice is a part of government decision-making; to participating in dialogues with government agencies, grassroots environmental advocates, industry representatives, and tribal governments on environmental justice issues; to promoting the effective use of civil rights statutes, particularly Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in tandem with federal environmental laws to secure the goals of the Executive Order, we are acting on our resolute commitment to addressing environmental, socioeconomic, and racial inequities wherever they exist.  As the report also details, we have achieved demonstrable benefits and effective legal remedies for vulnerable populations that have been adversely impacted by violations of environmental laws.  But this work is only the beginning.

All Americans can be proud of, and encouraged by, the progress that has been made in recent years.  But there’s no denying that a great deal of work remains before us.  For as long as I have the honor of serving as Attorney General, the Department of Justice will continue to prioritize environmental protection.  And I am confident that, by working closely with key federal partners and other stakeholders across America, we will be able to keep building on past successes, advancing shared goals, and realizing the promise of environmental justice.

Remembering Newtown
December 13th, 2013 Posted by

Blog courtesy of Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

No words can express the shock and horror that our nation witnessed one year ago tomorrow, in Newtown, Connecticut, when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and took the lives of 20 young children and six staff members.

Although the people of Newtown experienced the very worst of humankind on that terrible day, they have responded to that senseless tragedy with remarkable resilience.  From the determined law enforcement officers and other first responders who entered the school, confronted the unspeakable acts that took place there, and helped get students to safety; to the counselors, community leaders, and service providers who have rallied around those who lost friends and loved ones – the days, weeks, and months since the tragedy at Sandy Hook have been marked by healing and compassion.

I had the great honor of meeting with a few of the first responders, investigators, and others when I visited Newtown the week after this horrific shooting.  On that day, which I will always regard as the most difficult of my professional life, I walked the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School and saw the devastating crime scene.  I spoke with the men and women who helped secure the building, worked to save lives, and comforted those in need.  And I will never forget the courage displayed by every one of the people with whom I met.

Over the past year, their bravery has been matched only by the strength and resolve of the parents and other family members of those whose lives were cut short last December.  As a father of three children, I can only imagine the pain and heartbreak that each of them must feel.  My thoughts and prayers remain with them and with others who have lost young children, family members, or friends to similar tragedies.  Our nation has been inspired by their grace in the aftermath of incomprehensible loss.  And I will continue to carry their stories with me every day.

Today, I am honored to join the families of Sandy Hook in calling for all Americans to mark this solemn anniversary as an occasion for remembrance.  This weekend, let us pause to think of those who were taken from us – far too suddenly, and far too soon.  Let us lift up, and hold in our hearts, the memories of the 20 little angels and six brave adults we lost last December.  Let us pledge that we will always stand with and support those they left behind.  And let us join the people of Newtown in paying tribute to the victims of this heinous crime by engaging in acts of kindness for our fellow citizens – ensuring that the legacy of this hateful act will be forever defined by compassion, by solicitude, and by love.

50 Years Later: Attorney General Holder Reflects on President Kennedy’s Legacy
November 22nd, 2013 Posted by

The blog appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Holder visits the graves of President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

Attorney General Holder visits the graves of President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

Fifty years ago today, in Dallas, the life of the 35th President of the United States was ended by an assassin’s bullet. Like nearly all Americans who were alive on that terrible day, I’ll never forget the moment when I learned of John F. Kennedy’s death. On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, I was a 7th grader – on my way to science class – when I heard rumors that the president had been shot. I’ll always remember when, at the end of class, our teacher announced that the president had died. And when I got home from school later that day, I saw my father cry for the very first time.

This unthinkable event marked a turning point in my life, and in the lives of so many Americans who felt the heartbreak, the horror, and the sense of loss that accompanied such a profound national tragedy. In the decades since then, I have always regarded President Kennedy as a personal hero – not only because he challenged Americans to look to the stars, to confront a New Frontier, and to embrace the cause of civil rights – but because he exuded both optimism and vitality. He called new generations of Americans to public service. And he inspired in me, and in countless others, the belief that government can be a positive force – and that government service can be a noble, and deeply rewarding, endeavor.

Since President Kennedy’s assassination, I have regularly marked this anniversary by visiting his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. Before she passed away, I often brought my mother along with me, so we could pay tribute together to the man who inspired my career in public service, and to Robert F. Kennedy, who preceded me as Attorney General and rests just a short distance away.

This morning, as I stood just before dawn at President Kennedy’s eternal flame, I found it hard to believe that half a century has passed since he was taken from us. And I reflected on the vast and enduring legacy that he left – a legacy that stretches far beyond his thousand days in office. Over the course of three too-short years, he seized his moment in history to advance a bold vision, and a sweeping civil rights agenda, that has been changing the face of our nation ever since. He captured the imaginations of millions, including me, and inspired in us a new kind of patriotism – a patriotism anchored in the values that have defined this country since its founding, but brought vividly to life by his assurance that every citizen could, and in fact must, play a role in determining America’s future.

From the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the space program and the Peace Corps, the achievements and advances that John F. Kennedy inspired – and set in motion – have far outlasted his presidency and his young life. In his extraordinary inaugural address – which I will always rate alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech as the most important of my lifetime – he called on Americans to achieve those things we knew to be right but believed to be impossible. And he demanded that his countrymen and -women look beyond themselves and set their sights, and pin their aspirations, on a distant horizon.

Every time I visit Arlington, I think about President Kennedy’s call to service – a call that continues to motivate me even today: to work in defense of those truths our forefathers once held to be self-evident, but which we must fight, every day, to secure. To protect the progress that’s been made by all who have rallied, and marched, and sacrificed – over the last two and a quarter centuries – in the name of civil rights. And to reclaim the values of equality, opportunity, and justice that must drive every public servant and every citizen to keep moving this country forward – knowing, as President Kennedy did, that this work will outlast us, but determined, as he once urged us, to begin.

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
August 28th, 2013 Posted by

By Attorney General Eric Holder

This past Saturday, I had the tremendous honor of joining civil rights leaders, Members of Congress, and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens at the Lincoln Memorial to observe the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Earlier this afternoon, I took part in President Obama’s historic commemoration of this event. And I was proud to stand with him in renewing my own commitment, and that of my colleagues across the U.S. Department of Justice, to building on the progress that has defined the last half century – and continuing the work that remains unfinished.

After all, as the President reminded us, “[i]n the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.” In the five decades since Dr. King stood before hundreds of thousands on the National Mall and described his dream for a more just and more equal nation, millions have worked to do just that – and this country has taken remarkable, once-unimaginable steps forward. Yet the reality is that, despite the significant strides that Dr. King and so many others have made possible, we have much more to do, and further to travel, on the road to equality and opportunity. Despite the fact that one direct beneficiary of Dr. King’s legacy now sits in the Oval Office, and another has the great privilege of serving as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States, Dr. King’s vision has not yet been fully realized.

Today, we stand on the shoulders of untold millions who fought, and rallied, and organized to make real our nation’s founding promise of equal justice under law. To these brave men and women – whose names and individual stories may be lost to history, but whose contributions must always be treasured – we owe our deepest thanks. Fifty years after their historic march, this journey goes on, and our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this country who still yearn for equality, opportunity, and fair treatment.

Listening to President Obama’s inspiring words today, I was mindful of the singular legacy that’s been entrusted to each of us when it comes to extending the progress of the Civil Rights Era – and combating the bias, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and even hate-motivated violence that scars too many communities, and takes too many innocent lives, nearly every day.

So long as I have the privilege of serving as Attorney General, I pledge to do everything in my power to vigorously enforce the essential civil rights protections that earlier generations worked so hard to secure; to safeguard the progress they made; and to help bring our nation in line with our highest ideals. This means using every tool and authority available to the Justice Department to ensure that every eligible American can exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded rules, regulations, and procedures. This commitment is also evident in the sweeping changes I announced earlier this month, and which my colleagues and I are now implementing, to reform America’s criminal justice system – and to make this system smarter, fairer, and more effective.

These reforms include modifications to the Department’s charging policies with regard to mandatory minimum sentences, so we can ensure that people convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses are no longer faced with harsh sentences that don’t take into account the facts of their individual cases, and would be more appropriate for violent criminals and drug kingpins. We’re working to increase emphasis on diversion programs, such as drug rehabilitation and community service initiatives, which can in some cases serve as effective alternatives to incarceration. And we’re supporting data-driven reinvestment strategies – and proven reentry policies – that can help to reduce prison spending, improve public safety, and enable those who have paid their debts to society to rejoin their communities as productive, law-abiding citizens.

These are important changes not only because they will usher in a more equitable and effective criminal justice system, but also because they will bring us closer to our values. They will help us to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods, to forge a more just society, and to continue building the more perfect Union that remains our common pursuit.

Half a century after Dr. King delivered a speech that altered the course of American history, today’s citizens, public servants, and community leaders are charged with writing the next chapter. This afternoon, the President reminded us that each of us must seize this breathtaking opportunity – and live up to this solemn responsibility – by recognizing that we are forever bound to one another, and recommitting ourselves to the work that lies ahead, and the journey that still stretches before us.

Attorney General Eric Holder meets with German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich
July 12th, 2013 Posted by

Photo Credit: AMY MATHERS

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met today with German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, the German government’s top security official, as part of an ongoing dialogue with European Union allies about intelligence matters.

A Message from the Attorney General on the 49th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
July 2nd, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Half a century ago, when President John F. Kennedy sent Congress a draft of the Civil Rights Act, he asked members to look into their hearts – “not in search of charity . . . but for the one plain, proud and priceless quality that united us all as Americans: a sense of justice.”

Although his presidency was cut tragically short before this audacious proposal could become law, John F. Kennedy’s vision – of a brighter, more inclusive future – helped to rally a new generation of Americans to the cause of equality. As a result, exactly 49 years ago today, his successor – President Lyndon B. Johnson – realized a key part of this vision when he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark legislation included protections against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion.

In the nearly five decades since its initial passage, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has worked tirelessly to ensure the vigorous enforcement of this important law. And, as a number of recent cases prove, the Act continues to touch the lives of Americans across the nation – and to serve as a potent tool for combating discrimination.

For instance, in Indiana – in 2010 – a 22-year veteran of the Griffith Police Department alleged that she was denied a supervisory position because of her sex. Following an extensive Justice Department investigation – and thanks to an agreement reached just last month under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – the Griffith Police Department has agreed to stop this unlawful discrimination and enact new safeguards for its employees. And the female officer now serves as a shift commander, a position she had improperly been denied.

Last year, in a separate case in Georgia, a middle school student was repeatedly targeted with verbal and physical harassment because of his Sikh faith. A Civil Rights Division investigation found that the school district had failed to take effective disciplinary measures to end this harassment. Under an agreement the division secured in May under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, the district will work with the student and his family to ensure that he is provided a safe and supportive learning environment. And school officials will develop training resources and safety plans to prevent harassment of other students in the future.

Under another important provision of the Civil Rights Act known as Title VI, the department has also taken action to protect the most vulnerable members of society by preventing programs and law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding from engaging in discrimination. Today, the division is working with more departments than ever before to address serious policing challenges and to put in place reforms that will help departments to better protect the people they serve.

In 2009, using this powerful tool, the department investigated the treatment of arrestees by the juvenile court in Shelby County, Tennessee, and found that – at almost every measurable decision point – black children were treated more harshly than similarly situated white children. In December of last year, the division entered into an agreement with this jurisdiction to correct systemic violations and safeguard the rights of minority youth. That same month, a court approved a separate agreement between the department and the town of East Haven, Connecticut to address discriminatory policing against Latinos. And the Civil Rights Division has taken a variety of additional actions to bring the Civil Rights Act to bear in promoting equal access to justice in state courts; addressing racial discrimination in student discipline by dismantling the “school-to-prison” pipeline; and continuing critical efforts to desegregate schools and ensure that no one is denied access to public places like restaurants and theaters.

Although our nation has seen remarkable, once-unimaginable progress in the half-century since this law went into effect, the reality is that we cannot yet be satisfied. Important work and significant challenges remain before us.

That’s why my colleagues and I will continue to enforce the essential protections of the Civil Rights Act. We will keep striving to realize President Kennedy’s inspiring vision. And we will never stop fighting to ensure equal rights, equal opportunity and equal justice for all.

 
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