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Civil Rights Division Turns 65, Celebrates Amid Continued Tensions  

In the wake of a heated runoff election in Georgia, continued civil unrest and wholesale changes to reproductive rights in the U.S., the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division celebrated the work it has done with respect to voting rights, equality and other hot-button issues facing the nation, at a Tuesday, Dec. 6 meeting in Washington, D.C.

The division, which turned 65 this year, was created after then-President Dwight Eisenhower proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, according to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home. The law, which was the first civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction, allowed federal prosecutors to “obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote,” among other provisions, notes the library.

Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. DOJ, spoke at the milestone celebration about the importance of the division’s work, especially after the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn federally protected abortion rights in the U.S. “Nevertheless, I firmly believe in the opportunity for progress on civil rights in this country. I reject the defeatist predictions of decline and stagnation. Yes, we have work to do, but we at the Civil Rights Division are soldiering forward every day,” Clarke said. “We have challenges, but we are meeting them. We are on the front lines of our nation’s modern day Civil Rights Movement and we are waging battle on multiple fronts.”

She pointed to several recent actions pursued by the division during her remarks. Those include:

  • Opposition to Senate Bill 1 in Texas, which she said impairs the rights of Latino and Black voters
  • A challenge to redistricting in Galveston County, Texas, which also relates to the voting rights of Latino and Black voters
  • Resistance to armed individuals at Arizona drop-box locations based on voter intimidation provisions in Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act

“And far more than some may appreciate, we are winning; we are striking important blows for equality, for freedom and for the rule of law,” she said. “We are making significant strides when it comes to some of the most pressing issues of our time–the need for law enforcement accountability, the need to eliminate hate root and branch, and the need to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable among us.”

From Twitter

Greg Palast @Greg_Palast ·Nov 29

"BREAKING: Cheryl Moses, editor of @BlkGwinnett Magazine, teamed with the Palast Fund to file a formal complaint with the US Dept of Justice Civil Rights Division. The legal action demands the reversal of severe restrictions on dropboxes in Georgia. #gapol"

Merrick GarlandAttorney General Merrick Garland also spoke at the anniversary celebration and highlighted the importance of the division during times of civil unrest and racial tension. Among the division's many important roles, he touted its efforts to ensure constitutionally appropriate policing and build trust between law enforcement agencies and their respective communities.

“It has investigated potential patterns and practices of unconstitutional policing in multiple jurisdictions across the country,” Garland said. “And it has obtained federal convictions of four former Minneapolis police officers for their roles in the death of George Floyd.”

Garland also cited a concerted effort within the DOJ to combat discriminatory housing practices and potential federal violations in the housing market.

“Protecting civil rights is the responsibility of every one of our prosecutors, investigators, law enforcement agents, and staff. Protecting civil rights is the responsibility of every one of our litigating, grantmaking, and law enforcement agencies,” Garland said. “Protecting the civil rights of our people is the responsibility of all of us because it is this Department’s inheritance and its urgent charge. And protecting civil rights is our responsibility because it is the right thing to do.”

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