Statement of Attorney General John Ashcroft
before the Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Concerning Reauthorization of the Department of Justice June 6, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you. It's both an honor and a privilege to be here today to discuss the programs and activities of the Department of Justice.
As a former Judiciary Committee member myself, I'm always pleased to see the authorizers seeking to assert themselves. It's been over twenty years since the last comprehensive authorization for the Department of Justice was enacted. To put that in perspective: twenty years ago I was attorney general of the state of Missouri. Today I'm Attorney General of the United States. Progress can take time, but it is possible.
I commend you for your work here today. The responsibility for the United States system of justice is nothing less than the responsibility for freedom. And to carry the weight of such a responsibility is a rare privilege in the history of human affairs.
Of course, the weight of my responsibilities is giving me a good workout these days. I have inherited a department with 125,000 employees who I am meeting one-by-one, an alphabet sea of acronyms I am slowly coming to decipher, and a law enforcement mandate that is both humbling and inspiring.
The United States Department of Justice today is dedicated to a single proposition in carrying out this mandate: the energetic enforcement of the rule of law, including protecting the civil rights of all Americans.
Over the past several weeks I have had the privilege of meeting informally over coffee and orange juice with many of you to listen to your concerns and to discuss advancing the cause of justice. To date, I think I've met with about half of you, and I look forward to visiting with the remaining members in the next several weeks. I've been pleased to find that the priorities that you've expressed to me closely reflect my own priorities.
We share a respect for the rule of law and the defense of people and property that it requires. And we share a respect for the enforcement of civil rights and the cultivation of human potential that such respect permits.
As Attorney General, I have no higher priority than protecting the civil rights of all Americans. When racial unrest erupted in Cincinnati last month, the Department of Justice responded immediately, working with the mayor and other community leaders to help restore calm. On the streets of Cincinnati and elsewhere, our message - echoed in everything that we do at the Department - is that government judging its citizens on the basis of their race is wrong and must not stand.
The President has asked me to assess the extent and nature of one such form of discrimination -- racial profiling - and to report back to him with my recommendations. To make good on our commitment to improve the just and equal administration of our nation's laws, our 2002 budget increases funding for our Civil Rights Division to nearly $101 million - an increase over FY 2001 of 9.7 percent.
But dollars tell only a small part of the story. Because voting rights are also a critical civil right, we've sent monitors to elections in St. Louis, Missouri, and federal observers to Cicero, Illinois, to ensure the right to vote and to preserve the integrity of the voting process. Just yesterday we dispatched six observers to monitor municipal elections in Mississippi under the Voting Rights Act. In addition, we are carefully monitoring both state and federal electoral reform initiatives.
We're working to help small businesses better accommodate persons with disabilities under the President's New Freedom initiative. And we are stepping up prosecution of those who traffic in human beings to exploit them for their labor, particularly those who bring the approximately 50,000 women and children into the United States each year.
Another issue that has frequently come up in my conversations with many of you is immigration reform. The President's budget requests an additional $240 million to beef up INS enforcement activity and to help local prosecutors.
The Administration will also propose splitting the mission of the INS in two, with separate chains of command reporting to a single policy official. I support this proposal as a way to draw a bright line between the need to deter illegal immigration and to assure the millions of legal immigrants and new citizens the smooth and orderly service they deserve. I look forward to working with members of this committee as this proposal is advanced.
Looking ahead, the priorities of the Department of Justice will continue to be dictated by our commitment to first principles. Gun violence, violence against women, and drug crime all threaten to deny the most fundamental right of our citizens: the right to personal safety.
There is no question that we need a renewed commitment to the vigorous enforcement of existing laws addressing gun crime. The recent gun violence in our schools highlights the need for collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to combat juvenile gun crime. We've already taken steps to accomplish this by devoting increased resources to prosecutions, developing these collaborative approaches, and by working to ensure that child safety locks are available for every handgun in America.
And to those who despair of fighting to reduce illegal drug use, I have a very simple message today: I don't share your pessimism. The Department of Justice is committed to a vigorous, sustained effort to reduce drug abuse. Our children are too important for us to accept defeat when it comes to drugs.
Finally, I'd like to say a word about a critical need that underlies all of these efforts: protecting and promoting the integrity of our system of justice.
The demands placed on our Federal Bureau of Investigation have grown dramatically in response to the sophistication and globalization of crime. At the same time, legitimate concerns have been raised with regard to the management and administration of justice at the FBI. Two weeks ago, in testimony before an Appropriations Subcommittee of this House, FBI Director Louis Freeh announced a series of reforms to improve FBI record keeping and document management. These reforms are a necessary step in preserving the people's trust in our system of justice. We cannot - and I will not - allow our FBI's reputation - or the reputation of any of our law enforcement institutions - to be tarnished. It is the responsibility of all of us to see that equal and impartial justice applies to all Americans. And this is a responsibility that I take seriously, and seek to honor each day of my service to this nation.
Mr. Chairman, thank you. I look forward to responding to your questions.