NAACP Joins Civil Rights Groups Urging Attorney General Sessions to Include Civil Rights in DOJ’s Prioritiesby NAACP March 14, 2018
BALTIMORE— The NAACP, the nation’s foremost civil rights organization, along with other prominent African-American civil rights organizations, has sent a joint letter strongly advising U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to maintain the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) commitment to the civil rights laws – a commitment which Congress has entrusted it to enforce. The letter is in response to last week’s leaked draft of Session’s strategic plan. The plan noticeably lacked a dedicated effort to enforcing principal civil rights statutes. The joint letter reiterates to the Department of Justice, its legal and moral responsibility to protect fundamental civil rights for all across the United States.
“Protecting and enforcing civil rights for everyone in this nation should be of the utmost priority to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP. “It’s important that we do not allow those institutions responsible for protecting the infrastructure of civil rights abdicate their duty or purposely engage in a silent war against our freedoms by supporting policies which allow for a slow disintegration of the hard-earned freedoms, so many sacrificed their lives for.”
The letter was co-authored by Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP; Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF; Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League; Reverend Al Sharpton, President and Founder of the National Action Network; and Melanie L. Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation and Black Women’s Roundtable.
Attorney General Sessions
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Sessions,
We write in response to reports describing a draft of Strategic Plan of the Department of
Justice, setting forth the priorities that will be the focus of the Department’s work for the
coming four years. Enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws does not appear among the
priorities reportedly identified in this Plan.
As you know, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the Justice Department’s Civil Rights
Division, which is responsible for “uphold[ing] the civil and constitutional rights of all
Americans,” by “enforc[ing] federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race,
color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.”1 These include the
statutes that have come to define the Civil Rights Movement: the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Vigorous enforcement of
these statutes remains essential to remedying the persistent discrimination that denies
millions of Americans equal opportunities to work, to vote, to send their children to good
schools, and to live in neighborhoods where their families have the chance to thrive. More
recent civil rights legislation has continued to depend on the Department of Justice for
enforcement, including the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the
Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute—which empowers the Attorney General to take
action to eliminate patterns and practices of police misconduct—and the Matthew Shepard
and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Nearly a year ago we met in your office to share with you our sense of urgency about the
need for your office to affirmatively undertake its obligation to lead in enforcing the nation’s
civil rights laws. We spoke specifically about voting rights, the investigation of
unconstitutional patterns of policing, and the prosecution of hate crimes. You indicated at
the end our meeting that you would take our concerns under consideration.
Nevertheless, in the ensuing year you have taken actions that clearly reflect a lack of
concern about the matters we raised, or in some instances, affirmative hostility to the very
civil rights protections you are charged with enforcing. Under your leadership, the
Department reversed its long-held position supporting our constitutional challenge to
Texas’ voter ID law notwithstanding a federal court’s ruling in our favor, rolled back federal
policing reform efforts, and expressed interest in relitigating the constitutionality of
affirmative action despite repeated Supreme Court rulings upholding it. Despite a 57% rise
in hate crimes and our explicit request at our meeting that you speak out unequivocally
against hate crimes and commit increased resources to investigating groups and
individuals engaged in white supremacist violence, you have failed to articulate any
measures directly addressed to violent white extremism.
In failing to prioritize civil rights enforcement, your draft Strategic Plan suggests that each
of these actions reflects your now explicit intention to abandon one of the most important
imperatives of the Department you lead.
In closing, we remind you of the words you spoke at the confirmation hearing for former
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. You stated, “This is the top law enforcement job in
America, not a political position, and anyone who holds this position must have total
fidelity to the laws and Constitution of the United States.” Indeed, at your own
confirmation hearing, you committed to aggressively enforcing all federal laws, even those
you voted against and with which you disagreed. As you work to finalize your Strategic
Plans for the Department, we call on you to deploy the resources of the Department of
Justice to fulfill its historic role in enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws.
Melanie Campbell, President and CEO,
National Coalition on Black Civic
Kristen Clarke, President and Executive
Director, Lawyers Committee for Civil
Rights Under Law
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and DirectorCounsel,
NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund, Inc.
Derrick Johnson, President and CEO
Marc Morial, President, National Urban
Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President,
National Action Network