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Tag: vanita gupta

Garland Fulfilling Commitments On Civil Rights, Police Reform

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Department of Justice had the kind of pro-police reform week that doesn't happen every year. In a seven-day period, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, an overhaul on how to handle law enforcement oversight deals, and a promise to make sure the Justice Department wasn't funding agencies that engage in racial discrimination.

"This was a big week for civil rights at the DOJ," Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, shared in a thread about the progress on Twitter Thursday. "Proof that elections matter and that having civil rts attys in DOJ leadership matters. Let me walk you through what's happened in just this one week. It's actually astounding."

The first step forward on Ifill's list came in the form of a review of the Department of Justice's use of monitors who oversee implementation of consent decrees. The New York Timesdefined the legal mechanisms as "court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governmental agencies that create a road map for changes to the way they operate." Garland rescinded Trump-era policy that blocked consent decrees from addressing police misconduct in April. "This has been a concern among community groups in cities where police dept's are covered by consent decrees after DOJ investigations," Ifill tweeted. Garland announced on Monday 19 actions the department will take to address that concern.

"The department has found that – while consent decrees and monitorships are important tools to increase transparency and accountability – the department can and should do more to improve their efficiency and efficacy," Garland said in a news release. "The Associate Attorney General has recommended – and I have accepted – a set of 19 actions that the department will take to address those concerns." Those actions include capping monitoring fees on consent decrees, requiring stakeholder input, imposing specified terms for monitors, and requiring a hearing after five years "so that jurisdictions can demonstrate the progress it has made, and if possible, to move for termination."

"Consent decrees have proven to be vital tools in upholding the rule of law and promoting transformational change in the state and local governmental entities where they are used," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in the news release. "The department must do everything it can to guarantee that they remain so by working to ensure that the monitors who help implement these decrees do so efficiently, consistently and with meaningful input and participation from the communities they serve."

That was only Monday.

Kristen Clarke, who leades the Justice Department's civil rights division, announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into allegations of unconstitutional mistreatment of prisoners in Georgia, according to The New York Times. "Under the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution, those who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to serve time in prison must never be subjected to 'cruel and unusual punishments,'" Clarke said in her announcement of the investigation.

At least 26 people died last year by "confirmed or suspected homicide" in Georgia prisons, and 18 homicides have been reported this year in the state. That's not including those who have been left to die in horrible conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates facing that threat rioted at Ware State Prison last August in a viral uprising. Two inmates at the facility had died of COVID-19, and 22 prisoners and 32 staff members had tested positive for the virus during the time of the riot, according to Georgia Department of Corrections recordsobtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"This is huge. The humanitarian crisis in southern prisons is a critically important issue," Ifill tweeted of Clarke's announcement."Then the DOJ announced that it will ban the use of no-knock entries and chokeholds by federal law enforcement officers (except in cases where deadly force is authorized - more to probe abt the exception to be sure) ."

The decision follows the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was sleeping when officers executing a no-knock drug warrant smashed in her door after midnight and shot her at least eight times in her Louisville, Kentucky, home on March 13, 2020. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes despite Floyd saying repeatedly that he couldn't breathe. "Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department," Garland said in a news release. "The limitations implemented today on the use of 'chokeholds,' 'carotid restraints' and 'no-knock' warrants, combined with our recent expansion of body-worn cameras to DOJ's federal agents, are among the important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability."

Also on Ifill's list of Justice Department wins is a review to make sure it isn't awarding grants to law enforcement agencies that engage in racial discrimination. That review could have wide-reaching effects, touching education, health care, transportation, pretty much every facet that receive federal funding, The New York Times reported. "Approximately $4.5 billion in federal funding flows through the department to police departments, courts and correctional facilities, as well as victim services groups, research organizations and nonprofit groups," Times writer Katie Benner wrote. "All of these organizations, not just police departments, could be affected by this review."

Ifill tweeted it's been a long time since she's seen a week like last week, with the Justice Department announcing multiple measures to reform criminal justice "each with the potential to result in fundamental shifts in longstanding discriminatory practices." "I'm remembering AG Garland's confirmation testimony in which he explained that he needed AAG @vanitaguptaCR & Asst AG for Civil Rights @KristenClarkeJD on his team in particular to help him with critical areas of the work with which he does not have experience.

"This week feels like an important return on his commitment to assembling this rich team."

Kristen Clarke, a longtime voting rights advocate, was confirmed on May 25, making her the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division since it was created in 1957. When Gupta was confirmed on April 21, she became the first woman of color and the first civil rights lawyer to serve as associate attorney general.

Ifill went on to tweet: "For many I know this all may seem slow and clunky - it is after all, the government. I'm gratified to see that they're using the tools they have to undertake measures civil rights groups have been asking for for years. And they're working carefully and smart."

Smearing An Eminently Qualified Black Woman Is Business As Usual

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

She has been endorsed by many law enforcement groups, including the National Association of Police Organizations, yet she was accused of being anti-police. Baseless innuendo thrown her way has been refuted by support from the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, and dozens of other local, state, and national Jewish organizations. She's been tagged as "extreme," which only makes sense if being an advocate for an equitable society qualifies.

The nomination of Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden's choice to serve as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, barely made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Panelists split 11-11 along party lines, and then on Tuesday, the full Senate voted 50-48 to discharge the nomination from the committee, setting up a final floor vote.

Is anyone surprised at the roadblocks this nomination has faced?

Clarke, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, is a Black woman and president and executive director (now on leave) of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — and that may be the problem. The fight for "civil rights" for all, or even truthfully teaching about the struggle that made the fight necessary, has become controversial in some quarters, especially the Republican congressional caucuses.

Women of color have had a particularly tough time before the Senate Judiciary Committee with those who won't let the facts get in the way of partisan pushback. Vanita Gupta, despite her experience and endorsements, was attacked at her hearing before her eventual confirmation as associate attorney general. And then it was Clarke's turn.

The Usual Suspects

Some of it was comical, as when Sen. John Cornyn, took Clarke's satirical college writings criticizing the racism of The Bell Curve as literal. Some of it was just bullying, the well-trod territory of Cornyn's Texas partner, Sen. Ted Cruz, who insisted that a Newsweek column, in which Clarke agreed with Biden's call for more police funding, said the opposite.

Usually, presidents get the benefit of the doubt when choosing their teams. President Donald Trump certainly did, despite questionable qualifications for a host of them. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, not only had no education experience, she also barely hid her contempt for the public schools neither she nor any of her children attended. But the majority of Republicans approved of her, and her prioritizing of Christian and charter schools.

Fellow Texan and former governor of the state Rick Perry got Cruz's vote for secretary of energy, the department he forgot he wanted to eliminate during his infamous "oops" moment at a presidential debate in 2011. Perry also admitted he had to play catch-up on what the department actually did.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hypocrisy is not exactly new to Washington. Recently, Republican lawmakers were falling all over themselves to speechify the honoring of law enforcement during National Police Week. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, in a floor speech, recognized officers "willing to risk their own lives to protect others" and warned that "demonization of law enforcement will have lasting consequences, and it will ultimately make all of us less safe." This, as members of his GOP are resisting calls to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and downplaying injuries suffered by officers protecting those lawmakers' hides.

A Familiar Refrain

Most every Black person gets a certain bit of oft-repeated parental advice: "You have to work twice as hard to get half as far." It's resulted in a lot of overworking achievers (too close for comfort right here), and a lot of stuffed résumés. But even if you follow it to the letter, as Clarke did when she earned a scholarship to an elite prep school that took her far from her Brooklyn home and on to positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, you might get smeared when you dare to be excellent while Black, and use that excellence to make life better for all Americans.

Many Black female leaders, allies and organizations have supported Clarke, who would be the first Black woman to hold the post, and she would certainly be a needed change from the previous administration. Business leaders, perhaps less timid after finding their voice on other issues, have signaled their approval. The Biden Justice Department, under new leadership, has tried to rebuild its mission after the Trump team seemed bound and determined to make a mockery of its name.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who did pass muster this time at his Senate confirmation after then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider his Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama, is settling in with a full agenda. Garland has announced that the DOJ is reinstating consent decrees to reign in rogue police departments and going after white supremacists that Trump's own FBI director deemed the No. 1 domestic terror threat.

It's a big job that the likes of Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not only ignored but subverted. In Clarke, the department would get a professional who has seen unequal treatment in her work and up close.

As Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and another Black woman who is about the country's unfinished business, told theGrio: "Those who oppose her confirmation are actually opposed to the confirmation of a real civil rights advocate to run the Civil Right Division. They don't really oppose Kristen — they oppose robust civil rights enforcement."

In her own remarks before the Judiciary Committee, Clarke made her mission clear by quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, under whose leadership the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was founded: "'Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.' I've tried to do just that at every step of my career."

If only her opponents could say the same.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Senate Confirms Vanita Gupta To Civil Rights Post Despite GOP Attacks

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

After months of Republican attacks, Vanita Gupta was confirmed Wednesday afternoon as associate attorney general. Vice President Kamala Harris was available to break a tie, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted to advance Gupta's nomination to a full Senate vote earlier in the day, then followed up in making it a 51 to 49 vote to confirm. Gupta is the first woman of color and the first civil rights lawyer in this role.

Gupta is eminently qualified: She headed the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under then-President Barack Obama and is the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. But she's a woman of color who has focused her career on civil rights, which means Republicans see her as an enemy.

Gupta has been the target of nearly $1 million in attack ads by the far-right Judicial Crisis Network, and a group of Republican state attorneys general also attacked her, focusing on her work in the Obama Justice Department heading up investigations of police departments after white officers killed Black people. Those attacks came despite glowing endorsements from many law enforcement leaders. "She always worked with us to find common ground even when that seemed impossible," wrote the head of the nation's largest police union.

At her confirmation hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) sneeringly attacked Gupta for having the nerve to believe that implicit bias is a real thing, trying to turn it around on her by asking: "Against which races do you harbor racial bias?" Cotton also claimed that Gupta supports "decriminalization of all drugs," which she does not, and that she had misled the Senate Judiciary Committee about her stance on decriminalization, which she had not.

The Republican attacks weren't done there. On Wednesday, as the Senate moved toward a vote on Gupta's nomination, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell painted Gupta as having "a record of astoundingly radical positions." The notoriously dishonest McConnell also assailed Gupta's honesty, charging: "She's levied attacks on members of this body, and during the confirmation process, she employed the loosest possible interpretation of her oath to deliver honest testimony." The attacks on Gupta's truthfulness come essentially because she said that she would represent the Biden administration's positions, as she has in the past represented other organizations, be it the Obama Justice Department or the ACLU. This is a standard position for a nominee to take, but when it comes from a woman of color, it's portrayed as a character issue.

Gupta is far from the only woman of color whose confirmation has run into ferocious Republican attacks in recent months. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first American Indian Cabinet member ever, was likewise described as a "radical" during her confirmation process, of which former Sens. Tom Udall and Mark Udall noted, "Were either of us the nominee to lead the Interior Department, we doubt that anyone would be threatening to hold up the nomination or wage a scorched earth campaign warning about 'radical' ideas."

Many of the same Republicans who managed not to hear about any of Donald Trump's most outrageous tweets for four years were extremely well-informed about every strongly worded tweet ever to come from former Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden. Her nomination was ultimately sunk by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, ostensibly over those tweets, though Manchin had voted to confirm full-on misogynist Twitter troll Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany under Trump.

Most recently, Republicans pulled out pretty much the same playbook on Kristen Clarke, Biden's nominee to head the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, that they tried on Gupta: She's a radical who cares about civil rights—how dare she! In fact, she's the real racist, whether because she wrote a satire of The Bell Curve as a college student or has called for accountability in police killings of civilians.

If Republicans were distributing their venom equally across Biden's nominees, you'd say, well, they just hate all Democrats. But that's not what's happening here. There's a very clear pattern of especially fierce, personal opposition to women of color, and it doesn't seem like Senate Republicans mind how obvious it is, either.