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Oral Statement of Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez Before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Washington, D.C. ~ Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Good morning, Senator Coons and distinguished members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the critical work being done by the Civil Rights Division.

 

When I last had the honor to appear before you, just six months after being sworn in as Assistant Attorney General, I spoke about our commitment to restoring and transforming the Civil Rights Division. I promised to revitalize the Division, to boost morale, and to ensure aggressive, evenhanded and independent enforcement of all of the laws within our jurisdiction.

 

Almost two years into my tenure, we have committed considerable energy to these efforts, and I am happy to report that we’ve had great success, thanks to the committed career professionals in the Division.

 

We filed a record number of criminal civil rights cases in Fiscal Year 2009, and then topped that record in Fiscal Year 2010.

 

We indicted the largest human trafficking case in Department history, charging eight defendants in a scheme to force 600 Thai workers to labor on farms across the country.

 

We prosecuted the most high profile incident of police misconduct since the Rodney King incident, securing the convictions of five New Orleans Police Department officers for their roles in a shooting on the Danziger Bridge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that killed two civilians and wounded four. Five additional officers pled guilty to related charges.

 

The Division has 17 open pattern or practice investigations of law enforcement agencies, more than at any time in the Division’s history, including our extensive and comprehensive reviews of the New Orleans Police Department and the Puerto Rico Police Department.

 

We reached the largest ever settlement to resolve claims of rental discrimination in a case alleging discrimination against African Americans and Latinos.

 

We obtained the largest ever amount of monetary relief in a Justice Department fair lending settlement to resolve claims that two subsidiaries of AIG discriminated against African American borrowers.

 

Our new fair lending unit this fiscal year has filed more lawsuits under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act than in any year in at least a decade.

 

In the last full fiscal year, the Division obtained consent decrees or favorable judgments in 42 fair housing cases, including 26 with pattern or practice claims -- the most pattern or practice settlements in 14 years.   

 

Our disability rights practice has been taken to new heights. We have ramped up enforcement of the Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead Decision, joining or initiating litigation or issuing findings letter to assure community-based services for persons with disabilities in more than 35 matters in 20 states, including reaching comprehensive settlement agreements with Georgia and Delaware. Comparatively, during the previous administration, the division filed a single amicus brief in an Olmstead case.

 

We reached the largest ever settlement under Title III of the ADA, which applies to places of public accommodation. Under the agreement, Wells Fargo will ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities to the bank’s services nationwide, and will pay up to $16 million to compensate individuals harmed by violations.

 

We have an active docket of cases on behalf of servicemembers. We reached the largest ever settlement under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, ensuring Bank of America/Countrywide will pay $20 million to resolve allegations that they illegally foreclosed upon servicemembers without court orders.

 

In two and a half years, we have filed 33 cases under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, exceeding the number of cases filed during the previous administration in the entire four years that the Division had jurisdiction.

 

In 2010, we completed an extensive program of enforcement of the MOVE Act to ensure access to the ballot for servicemembers and overseas citizens, obtaining agreements in 14 states or territories -- the most enforcement actions under a single statute ever taken by the Voting Section leading up to a federal election.

 

We have doubled the rate of amicus briefs filed in federal courts of appeals.

 

We have opened 20 civil investigations under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and filed eight complaints under the Act – compared to just one civil FACE Act case in the eight years of the previous administration.

 

We have received nearly 4,000 submissions for review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights act, including more than 500 redistricting plans.

 

We filed the first two lawsuits in seven years under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act, or Motor Voter, to ensure that citizens have ample opportunity to register to vote as required by federal law.

 

The Voting Section is involved in 27 new cases this Fiscal Year, including affirmative and defensive cases and amicus participation – the most in any fiscal year in the last decade. This includes nine bailout actions filed by jurisdictions seeking to be removed from Section 5 coverage, the most bailout actions ever in a single year.

 

I am proud of these considerable accomplishments, and exceedingly grateful to the dedicated career staff in the Division. But more important than the numbers are the people who have suffered from violations of civil rights laws, and who have found some measure of justice from our work.

 

Take, for example, the victim of a hate crime in New Mexico that astonishes even those of us who have prosecuted hate crime cases before. Last month, the first defendants to be charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act pleaded guilty to the racially motivated assault of a 22-year old man of Navajo descent who had developmental disabilities. The defendants took the victim to their apartment, where they defaced his body with white supremacist and anti-Native American symbols, and used a wire hanger heated on a stove to brand a swastika into his skin.

 

Or take the six women in Detroit who were subjected to severe and pervasive sexual harassment by a maintenance worker in their apartments, including in one woman’s case case being required to have sex with him in exchange for the keys to her apartment. Evidence showed that the owner of the properties knew of the harassment and did nothing to stop it. A jury awarded monetary damages to the women.

 

Finally, take the nearly 180 members of the armed forces, and their families, who lost their homes because their mortgage servicers, in violation of federal law, foreclosed upon their homes without first obtaining a court order, as required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The Division reached settlements with Bank of American/Countrywide and Saxon Mortgage Services to provide for more than $22 million in damages for the servicemembers who lost their homes.

 

These victims, and so many others, are the reason I and my colleagues in the Division get out of bed each morning. It is a great honor to go to my job every day and work with the dedicated career attorneys and professionals in the Division to protect and defend the rights guaranteed by some of our nation’s most cherished laws. We take very seriously our responsibility carry the torch of the great civil rights pioneers who fought for those laws – and we honor their legacy by enforcing those laws aggressively and evenhandedly.   

 

I thank you for the opportunity to tell you about our work, and I look forward to answering your questions.

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