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Recognizing World AIDS Day 2013
December 2nd, 2013 Posted by

This post is courtesy of the Civil Rights Division

“Federal law is a critically important tool in eradicating the discrimination that so many people living with HIV and AIDS still face in their daily lives.  By enforcing the civil rights laws and educating members of the public about their rights and responsibilities, the Department of Justice seeks to eradicate the stigma and stereotypes that so often lead to unlawful treatment of people with HIV/AIDS.  Along with our partner agencies under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we remain committed to using every tool available to protect the rights of individuals with HIV/AIDS.”  

-Attorney General Eric Holder

In recognition of World AIDS Day 2013, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS across our country.  President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes that important work as a priority.  This year’s observance offers us the chance to both reflect on the work we have done in the past year to protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and – due to the sad truth of continuing discrimination – the significant work to be done in the year ahead. 

 The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division HIV/AIDS enforcement work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over the past year has been robust.  Much of that work has involved allegations that individuals were denied care or were otherwise treated differently in health care, dentistry, or other clinical settings because they have HIV, and the department resolved those allegations through policy changes that ensure that all future individuals with HIV/AIDS would not face the same discrimination in those settings.  These included settlements with a pain management clinic in North Carolina that refused to treat a patient due to her HIV status, a clinic in Missouri that refused to treat a woman with HIV for her serious eating disorder, a dentistry practice in Virginia that told a new patient with HIV that all of his appointments must be scheduled as the last appointment of the day, an alcohol treatment program in Ohio that excluded an individual from their program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, and a provider of bariatric surgeries based on the experiences of individuals in Pennsylvania and Michigan whose anticipated surgeries were cancelled or denied because of their HIV status. 

In September 2013, the department filed a complaint and settlement in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina regarding the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ (SCDOC) policies and practices of segregating inmates with HIV in several of its prisons and denying those individuals the opportunity for equal participation in services, programs, and activities.  The segregation at the heart of the lawsuit includes placement of individuals with HIV in two of the system’s highest security prisons –  regardless of their individual security classifications –  where they were housed in “HIV-only” dorms and required to wear clothing and badges that identified their dorms (effectively disclosing their HIV status to other inmates, staff, and visitors).  Because certain programs are not provided at the two high security prisons, inmates with HIV were unable to participate in a variety of the SCDOC’s programs, such as drug treatment, work release, pre-release preparation, intermediate psychiatric care, and certain jobs that are made available to lower-level security inmates who do not have HIV. 

The settlement resolving the department’s investigation of the SCDOC requires the SCDOC to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability (including, in particular, on the basis of HIV status).  Additionally, lower-level security inmates with HIV who are currently housed in the SCDOC’s two high security prisons will have an opportunity to choose new housing options based on the general classification system without regard to their HIV status.  Under this settlement, inmates with HIV will also be able to participate in DOC programs, such as drug treatment, work release, pre-release preparation, intermediate psychiatric care, youthful offender programs, re-entry, and food service jobs in the cafeteria and canteen.  Finally, inmates with HIV who in the past have experienced segregation will be given priority access to those programs that they were illegally denied.  With this settlement, the SCDOC joins the other 49 state correctional systems in recognizing that individuals with HIV are entitled to equal treatment under the law.

Through its technical assistance work, the department also continues its efforts to ensure that employers, businesses, state and local governments and people living with HIV/AIDS are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the law –  including through the availability of publications such as “Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS,” through training events and through the ADA Information Line, 800-514-0301 (voice), 800-514-0383 (TTY).

Today, in recognition of World AIDS Day 2013, the department pledges its continued commitment to the important goal of allowing individuals with HIV/AIDS to reach their full potential – free of the burdens of stigma and discrimination.  To learn more about the department’s work, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Honoring the Civil Rights of Native Americans
November 27th, 2013 Posted by

This post is courtesy of the Civil Rights Division

In keeping with President Barack Obama’s proclamation recognizing National Native American Heritage Month, this month the Department of Justice honors the vibrant cultures of Native American societies and strengthens the government-to-government relationship between the United States and each tribal nation.  By proclaiming November to be Native American Heritage Month, President Obama reaffirmed this administration’s commitment to Native self-determination and the right of tribal governments to build and strengthen their own communities. 

The Civil Rights Division shares this commitment to respecting and protecting the rights of tribes and individual Native Americans.  The division’s work in this area is a year-round effort, spearheaded by the division’s Indian Working Group.  The Indian Working Group has representatives from every section of the division, from education to voting to employment, recognizing that Native Americans’ civil rights should be protected in every sphere of life.  This collaborative effort elevates enforcement, outreach and educational opportunities concerning Native American issues throughout the country.

For too long, Native Americans have experienced discrimination and injustice, and the federal government can and must stop such unequal treatment.  In response to frequent concerns raised by tribal leaders, the Civil Rights Division’s Indian Working Group is researching new ways to enhance implementation of civil rights laws and other laws affecting the rights of Native American parents and children in the context of child custody.  The discriminatory removal of Native American children from their families and placement in foster care and adoption systems, without adequate consideration of tribal citizenship and the unique family structures in Native American communities, are of deep concern to Native Americans and tribes.  The Indian Working Group is interested in methods in which the division can effectively assist in addressing Native American rights in the child custody context, including enforcement of federal civil rights laws and/or technical assistance to tribal or other related governmental agencies. 

The division enforces federal laws against hate crimes and discriminatory or abusive policing. We confront challenges to the civil rights of Native Americans, including vicious assaults born of hatred and threats used to drive Native Americans out of their homes. 

In addition, using our authority under the Religious Land Use of Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), this year we urged courts to ensure Native American prisoners in South Dakota were able to freely practice their religion.  

The Civil Rights Division’s ability to enforce federal civil rights laws on behalf of Native Americans depends on communication with Native Americans who have faced discrimination – whether in education, housing, voting, employment or lending – on the basis of race, national origin, English language fluency or religion.  To that end, the Indian Working Group is striving to establish relationships with Native American human and civil rights groups.  This year the Indian Working Group entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) as a mechanism to communicate regularly about potential civil rights issues and the division’s role in enforcing civil rights laws.  The Indian Working Group has embarked on a series of meetings with the NNHRC to exchange information that might necessitate referral to law enforcement agencies for further investigation when deemed appropriate.  This is the first agreement of its kind reached by the Indian Working Group and it serves to support our mission to identify and address potential civil rights violations that affect Native Americans. 

In an effort to expand our outreach, the Indian Working Group has launched an Indian Working Group website – www.justice.gov/crt/iwg/ – that provides information about the Civil Rights Division’s work on behalf of Native Americans and includes links to publications, statements, briefs, press releases, outreach initiatives and contact information.

We do this work not only because it is our legal responsibility as a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, but because it is our moral responsibility as members of a broad, diverse community.  We have the power of the law and the federal government behind us, and we will continue to protect the civil rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives.  The Indian Working Group can be reached at indianrights.workinggroup@usdoj.gov.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
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.

Trial Advocacy Training for Tribal Court Judges, Prosecutors, and Defenders
November 22nd, 2013 Posted by

Since 2011, the Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ) has partnered with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Tribal Services to host a series of tribal court trainings known as the Tribal Court Trial Advocacy Training Program. This free, three-day trial advocacy course is designed to improve the trial skills of judges, public defenders, and prosecutors who appear in tribal courts. All trainings are staffed by experienced tribal prosecutors, defenders, judges, Assistant United States Attorneys who practice in Indian Country, and Assistant Federal Public Defenders.

The program seeks to strengthen tribal courts in furtherance of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the authority that the statute recognizes for tribal courts to exercise jurisdiction over serious criminal cases including felonies that potentially carry lengthy prison sentences. To implement this enhanced sentencing authority, tribal courts must provide substantive and procedural safeguards, including lawyers for indigent defendants who face incarceration for more than one year and law-trained judges to preside over the cases. These same safeguards are incorporated into the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013′s voluntary special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. By providing trainings for defenders, prosecutors, and judges, the program aims to strengthen the skills of those who appear in tribal courts so that tribes can exercise greater sovereignty in criminal justice matters that occur on their lands.

The first training in the series was held in August 2011 in Rapid City, S.D. In a unique and effective teaching strategy, trainings included combined sessions for defenders and prosecutors as well as breakout sessions that allowed each side to further develop trial skills. Participants gave overwhelmingly positive feedback at the end of their training and voiced support for the concept of combined trainings.

Since that time, additional trainings have been held in Phoenix, Ariz.; Duluth, Minn.; Ignacio, Co.; Great Falls, Mont.; Chinle, Navajo Nation (Ariz.); Seattle, Wash; Albuquerque, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Missoula, Mont.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Reno, Nev.; and Philadelphia, Miss.

Based on the success of these trainings, additional trainings have been scheduled in the next two months:

  • December 2-5, 2013 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
  • January 27-31, 2014 in Albuquerque, N.M.

These trainings are catered to the needs of the communities in which they are offered. For example, in Grand Forks, N.D., in June 2013, attendees met with the federal justice leaders in the state about the importance of strong independent tribal courts to ensure public safety in Indian County. Participants heard from Chief Justice Ralph Erickson of the U.S. District Court Judge for the District of North Dakota; Tim Purdon, U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota; and Neil Fulton, Federal Defender for the Districts of South and North Dakota.

Chief Justice Erickson cautioned that for tribal courts to be effective, “the principles of independence and due process have to be at center stage.”

And he also encouraged tribal courts to draw from their community’s traditions and cultures:

“Tribes can and should incorporate Indian cultural traditions as peacemaker courts and talking circles, and those features should be respected by people outside the tribes.”

US Attorney Purdon similarly noted that tribal courts “don’t have to be the mirror image of a state or federal court and that Standing Rock system of handling cases in a peacemaker manner amongst disputing parties is a model that can be replicated.”

Additional trainings in 2014 are being planned, which will be posted here. All trainings are free with CLE credit available and open to judges, public defenders, and prosecutors who appear in tribal courts. For more information about these trainings and how to register, please visit http://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/BIA/OJS/ojs-services/ojs-tjs/index.htm.

Understanding the Impact of Children’s Exposure to Violence in American Indian/Alaska Native Communities
November 14th, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason

Yesterday, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the first public hearing of a new task force to examine the impact of violence on children in Indian country. Speaking to leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes, the Attorney General explained that this task force originated with the findings of his Defending Childhood Initiative, which sought ways to reduce children’s exposure to violence.

As Attorney General Holder stated:   

We must not accept the shameful reality that American Indians and Alaska Natives are disproportionately likely to be exposed to crime and violence – and that many who suffer exposure are children. By bringing together federal officials, tribal leaders, and local partners to focus on the unique challenges that Indian children face, this task force will enhance public safety.  And these leaders will strengthen our communities by ensuring that every child can have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to thrive – free from violence and fear.

One of the Defending Childhood task force’s key findings in its December 2012 final report was that American Indian and Alaska Native children experience “extreme levels of violence.”  As one tribal leader put it, “For us…the question is not who has been exposed to violence, it’s who hasn’t been exposed to violence.”  Geographic isolation, jurisdictional complexities, a scarcity of resources, and a host of other challenges demand that we focus special attention on the problems facing American Indian and Alaska Native youth and those who serve them.

The new Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is anchored by both a federal working group and an advisory committee of experts.  The advisory committee will hold its first hearing in Bismarck, N.D., on December 9th and will hold three additional hearings and several listening sessions in 2014 to develop a clear understanding of the scope and impact of children’s exposure to violence in tribal communities and to recommend ways to address it.

The advisory committee will be co-chaired by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah, who have long demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing violence in Indian country.  They will be aided by tribal members and national experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma and child welfare and law—the best and brightest in their field.  Serving without compensation, they will produce a report that will receive the highest level of attention from the Department and the Administration with the goal of developing strategies to protect American Indian and Alaska Native kids from exposure to violence for years to come.

As the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, I am confident that the task force will be successful in guiding our efforts to reduce violence and develop culturally relevant interventions. When I served as the Deputy Associate Attorney General earlier in the Administration, I had the good fortune to lead the team that developed our Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, or CTAS, a hugely successful instrument that streamlined the grant process for tribes and made all Justice Department funding more accessible to tribal applicants. The simplified process also released the creativity of tribes to fashion programs for their members that tap into strengths that are rooted in their culture and customs.  And tribes are doing some truly remarkable things, from traditional healing services for crime victims, to youth programs that bring together elders and young people, to intertribal information sharing partnerships, among other efforts. 

The advisory committee will submit  a report by late 2014, recommending ways, both innovative and traditional, that policymakers, legislators, practitioners, and researchers at all levels can work to reduce the rates at which native children encounter violence and to intervene effectively in the lives of these young people.

The good news is that there are programs and practices out there that can reverse the damage caused by exposure to violence.  It is a matter of determining the nature and the extent of the problem and tailoring those promising approaches to the unique challenges in Indian country, guided by the rich heritage of native communities’ long-standing tribal practices.

I believe that by working together, nation to nation, we can meaningfully help prevent American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence. 

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

Liberty, Opportunity and Equality for All: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act Vote
November 8th, 2013 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels

“The fact remains that, across the country, far too many LGBT Americans suffer discrimination each and every day.  That’s why the Department will keep working to promote opportunity and access for every individual.  It’s why this will continue to be a priority for this Department as long as I have the privilege to serve as Attorney General.  It’s why we will continue to advocate for essential legislative changes and reforms, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to extend workplace protections to all Americans.”

-Attorney General Eric Holder, June 2013

Right now, in 29 states, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) Americans lack sufficient protections against employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  This week, the Senate passed a bill—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—that would close this gap in our nation’s civil rights laws.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law has prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Yet five decades later, while we wait for ENDA to pass the House of Representatives, no federal law exists that explicitly prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and the majority of states lack basic workplace protections for LGBT Americans.

As President Obama has stated: “[O]ur journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

If signed into law, a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  ENDA’s prohibition of intentional discrimination makes clear that LGBT Americans deserve the same types of protections that are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ability to earn a living and climb up the economic ladder is at the heart of the American dream.  No individual should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions and pay raises because of who they are or who they love.  That’s why President Obama, Attorney General Holder, the Civil Rights Division, and the administration as a whole have been committed to the passage of an inclusive ENDA.

In 2009, Tom Perez, then Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, testified on behalf of the department before the Senate HELP Committee in support of this legislation, stating: “We have come too far in our struggle for ‘equal justice under the law’ to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities.”

The Civil Rights Division regularly receives letters from LGBT individuals all over the country documenting instances of employment discrimination.  This discrimination takes many forms—from cruel instances of harassment, to explicit denials of employment or career-enhancing assignments.  It is painfully disappointing to have to tell these men and women that, in the United States of America in 2013, insufficient legal tools exist to address this discrimination.  While the Division makes every effort to address these complaints, because there are no federal laws that provide explicit protection against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, far too many people are left without clear protections.

Four years ago, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to protect LGBT individuals from hate-fueled violence.  Now it’s time for Congress to make certain that these Americans enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace and equal access to the American dream.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Division seeks to advance this nation’s long struggle to embrace the principle so eloquently captured by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—that persons should be judged based on the content of their character, and not on their race, color, sex, national origin, religion or any other irrelevant factors.

Our existing civil rights laws, enforced by the Civil Rights Division, reflect and uphold this noble principle.  So does the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  Its passage would move this great nation one step closer to fulfilling our Constitution’s promise of liberty, opportunity and equality for all.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
 
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