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Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice’s National Women’s History Month Observance Program
~ Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thank you, Richard [Toscano], for that kind introduction – and for all that you and your colleagues have done to bring us together for today’s important event.  It’s a pleasure to welcome so many friends and colleagues to the Great Hall.  And it’s a privilege to join you, once again, in celebrating Women’s History Month.

I’d like to thank our keynote speaker, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz, for lending her voice – and her unique perspective – to this morning’s program.  I also want to thank Dorothy Williams, of the Civil Rights Division, for that rendition of the National Anthem, and Avery Bakeley, of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, who will provide closing remarks.  It’s great to have you with us.

Every March, we pause to honor the extraordinary contributions and innumerable sacrifices that American women have made throughout our history – and that they continue to make today – in order to move our nation, and this Department, forward.  Leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ada Kepley – the first woman to graduate from law school in the United States – have left indelible marks on the fabric of our country.  Pioneers like the journalist and writer Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first African-American woman to attend the University of Georgia – and even my late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, who, before coming to work for the Civil Rights Division, became the first African-American student to graduate from the University of Alabama – paved the way for today’s trailblazers to help realize the full promise of equal justice for all.

From the thousands of suffragists who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue just over a century ago, in 1913 – seeking nothing more than the right to vote – to countless women of character and commitment who serve today at the highest levels of government and the private sector – these remarkable individuals inspire us, every day, to lead.  And they challenge us to strive – always – to forge the better, brighter, and more equal future that everyone in this country deserves.

In keeping with the theme of this month’s observance, we gather to lift up the examples of courageous women who have gone before us.  And we celebrate, in particular, those who have served this great institution – as well as those who are currently making their contributions felt across every office and component.

During the Clinton Administration, I was privileged to serve under the first woman ever to hold the office of Attorney General – my dear friend, and one of my most accomplished predecessors, Janet Reno.  Since then, more and more women have played prominent roles in shaping the Department’s policy decisions, leading our litigating divisions, and directing civil and criminal investigations.  Through the Department-wide Diversity Management Initiative I launched in 2010, we’re taking steps to institutionalize these gains.  And we’re expanding programs that promote fairness, equality, and opportunity for every member of the DOJ family.

Of course, as all of you know – and as you’re striving to ensure every day – this Department is not just leading by example. We remain as committed today as ever before to the carrying on the efforts of those who led us to this moment – recognizing that their work has become our work.  And it is far from over.

Last year, this commitment drove Justice Department leaders to work with Congress to secure the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act – a landmark law that expanded our ability to combat intimate partner violence, provided new safeguards for LGBT individuals, and closed a gap that had long compromised the ability of American Indian and Alaska Native women to seek justice against those who did them harm.

Last April, thanks to the leadership of our Office on Violence Against Women, I unveiled an updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations – or, SAFE Protocol – to improve services for survivors and share best practices throughout the country.  And just last week, the Vice President and I announced that the President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2015 includes $35 million for a new grant program that will enable us to better address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits – and allow communities to identify their most critical needs when it comes to sexual assault prevention, investigation, prosecution, and services.

These innovative programs, and many others, are reflective of the steadfast commitment that this Department of Justice has made to combating discrimination – and empowering America’s women and girls not just to make their voices heard; not just to determine their own destinies; and not just to succeed – but to thrive.  To lead.  And to shape the brighter future we seek – and, together, must build.

This is the challenge – and the opportunity – now before us.  And it’s the ongoing struggle that’s being waged by passionate public servants like all of you, and like today’s keynote speaker – an extraordinary woman whom I first met when she interned in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, where I was a young line attorney, just over three decades ago.

Today, Carmen Ortiz serves as United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts – the first woman ever to hold that distinguished office.  Her leadership, and exemplary service, has come at a time of great challenge and consequence for the city of Boston and others throughout her District.  I will always be grateful for the dedicated work that she and her colleagues perform every day.  And I’m honored to invite her to share a few words with us this morning.

Please join me in welcoming my good friend, U.S. Attorney [Carmen] Ortiz.

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