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September 24, 2020
CONTACT: Daniel Schwarz, 202-225-5635
Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on “Oversight of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice”: Thank you, Chairman Cohen, and thanks to all of our witnesses for joining us today.
When Attorney General William Barr came before the full Committee earlier this year, many of our questions focused on the Trump Administration’s abysmal record on civil rights. We pressed Mr. Barr to answer questions about federal officials teargassing protestors at his direction; about voting rights; about police violence; and about other pressing matters where it appears the Civil Rights Division has been either absent or actively counter-productive.
Today, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband—the man who is in charge of the Civil Rights Division—simply refuses to appear to defend his record, such as it is. And although I would like to focus on the substance of this hearing, I must take a minute to acknowledge the Department’s truly astonishing explanation for his absence.
Late Monday night, DOJ sent a letter stating that Mr. Dreiband would not be attending today’s hearing, and that the heads of the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service also plan to boycott an upcoming hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Now, this Administration has come up with a lot of reasons for ignoring Congress. We’ve heard them assert ‘absolute immunity.’ We’ve heard them complain about the terms on which government lawyers are allowed to accompany the witness. We’ve heard them say the hearing date is too soon.
But this one takes the cake. The United States Department of Justice now says, in complete seriousness, that it is not sending any more witnesses to this Committee because we were mean to Attorney General Barr when he was here in July—or as the Department put it, that we ‘use[d] [our] allotted time to air grievances.’ Apparently it is too much for DOJ to stomach the thought that when the Attorney General orders the teargassing of peaceful protestors, repeatedly interferes in criminal investigations to protect the President, and actively foments distrust in an upcoming election, he might get some pressing questions when he comes before Congress.
But, in a way, Mr. Dreiband’s absence from today’s hearing is fitting. Because this hearing is really about the complete absence of the Civil Rights Division when it comes to enforcing civil rights. Mr. Dreiband’s not being here perfectly encapsulates what we have been seeing from his office for the past four years—an empty chair.
The Civil Rights Division is a large office with a proud tradition of enforcing some of our most sacred laws. From voting rights to housing and disability rights, and from employment and education rights to the right to be free from police violence, the Civil Rights Division is supposed to stand up for the values that protect all people in our Nation.
But during this Administration, time and time again, the Division has fallen short. As far as justice in policing goes, it has abandoned the idea of pursuing structural reform through consent decrees—a critical tool that courts and DOJ have used in the past to reform unconstitutional policing in our cities. As for voting rights, what we have seen is a near total abdication of responsibility. The Division has filed precious few cases protecting Americans’ voting rights—and it has filed no new cases protecting the rights of Black or Latino voters, among others.
After reviewing a ‘list of activities’ published by the Division, one former official commented, ‘Frankly, it’s hard to see what the Voting Rights Section is doing all day.’ Worse still, in many instances, the Civil Rights Division has switched its earlier positions to fight actively against the interests of minority voters.
In cases involving LGBTQ rights, as well, we have seen the Justice Department actively litigate against gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans, including by arguing in the Supreme Court that federal law permits employers to fire their employees for being gay or transgender. Fortunately, they lost.
And now, the Civil Rights Division is urging the courts to eliminate what remains of affirmative action and diversity in college admissions.
Fortunately—and in the absence of actual participation from Mr. Dreiband—we have excellent witnesses before this Committee today who can help inform us about where the Division has fallen short and, most importantly, where it can improve.
I thank Chairman Cohen for holding this hearing and I look forward to hearing from the panel. I yield back the balance of my time.”