President Obama and Attorney General Holder emphasized in their FOIA Memoranda the importance of agencies working with FOIA requesters “in a spirit of cooperation.” A key element of that cooperation is establishing and maintaining good communication with requesters. In 2010, before the first anniversary of the issuance of Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) issued guidance entitled The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters. That guidance addressed several ways in which agencies could improve their communication practices.
One of the topics addressed in OIP’s 2010 guidance was the use of what is known as a “still-interested” inquiry, i.e., when an agency asks a requester whether he or she remains interested in the continued processing of their request. OIP’s 2010 guidance advised agencies to be “mindful of the manner in which such inquiries are made,” and to afford requesters a reasonable amount of time to indicate their continued interest.
“While use of ‘still-interested’ inquiries is an understandable way to help ensure that agency resources are appropriately spent processing requests for records where the requester remains interested in receiving the documents, it is equally important that requesters are not in any way disadvantaged by their use.”
The new guidance outlines a series of procedures that agencies should use when inquiring whether a requester remains interested in the continued processing of his or her request.
- Reasonable Grounds to Make “Still-Interested” Inquiry in the First Instance – any “still-interested” inquiry should be limited to those situations where the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that the requester’s interest in the records may have changed;
- Limiting the Number of Times “Still-Interested” Inquiries are Made – absent good cause, agencies should not inquire more than once whether a requester is still interested in the request;
- Using Requester’s Preferred Method of Communicating – email or telephone are often the most efficient ways to communicate with requesters and should be used as the default;
- Providing Requesters with a Reasonable Amount of Time and Method to Respond to “Still-Interested” Inquiries – the time period to allow requesters to respond to “still-interested” inquiries should be no shorter than thirty (30) working days and a simple response over the telephone, a reply to an email, or the checking of a box on a self-addressed form are all examples of easy methods that agencies can make available to requesters so that they can most readily respond to the inquiry; and
- Ensuring Requesters are Not Disadvantaged – in the event a requester responds to a “still-interested” inquiry within a reasonable time after the deadline has passed, agencies should simply reopen the request and place it back into the agency’s queue in the same position it would have been had the “still-interested” inquiry not been sent.
Agencies should review their procedures on the use of “still-interested” inquiries to ensure they are in conformity with this new guidance. OIP has prepared an implementation checklist to assist agencies in doing so.
Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division
Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court recognized in Lau v. Nichols that:“Basic English skills are at the very core of what public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education.” That recognition informed the court’s landmark holding that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), and its implementing regulations and guidance, require schools that receive federal financial assistance to take affirmative steps to ensure that English learner (EL) students can meaningfully participate in their educational programs. Consistent with Lau’s holding, Congress enacted the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), requiring both local and state educational agencies to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by EL students in instructional programs.
In the years since the Supreme Court decided Lau and Congress enacted the EEOA, many school districts and states across the country have made significant strides in providing necessary services and supports to EL students and to Limited English Proficient (LEP) families. And the Department of Justice has promoted state and district compliance with these laws through investigations and enforcement actions. Just this week, the department secured significant relief for the more than 16,000 EL students in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) when the court approved the modified consent decree (MCD) jointly filed by all parties in the historic Lau case. The MCD aims to address compliance problems identified by the department and the private plaintiffs through their active monitoring of SFUSD’s implementation of a 2008 court order.
This ground-breaking MCD requires SFUSD to implement comprehensive measures to ensure that all EL students in its 105 regular education schools and five court and county (i.e., serving detained and incarcerated students) schools have equal educational opportunities, and that Limited English Proficient (LEP) families can participate meaningfully in the education of their children. The MCD requires SFUSD to:
promptly identify, assess and place EL students in effective EL programs;
offer a range of EL programs and services to meet the needs of all EL students, including newcomers, students with disabilities and long-term EL students;
expand translation and interpreter services for LEP families;
adequately train employees who serve EL students so that they can fulfill their roles; and
conduct robust monitoring.
The MCD also protects the educational rights of the district’s most at-risk and vulnerable EL students who are learning in alternative education or juvenile justice settings.
The court’s approval of this significant consent decree furthers the promise of Lau: that all students, no matter their language background, have access to a high-quality education. The department looks forward to working with SFUSD, its students, the private plaintiffs, and the community to implement the MCD to ensure that EL students and LEP families are welcomed and supported in all aspects of their educational experiences.
Courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division
There are almost 90,000 units of state and local governments, each of which plays a fundamental role in the lives of its residents. Not only do these governmental entities provide a wide array of programs, services, and activities to their residents, they also rely on their residents to participate in civic activities by voting, serving on advisory boards, running for office, volunteering in schools and countless other activities. In the United States, more than 55 million Americans—18% of our population—have disabilities. This number includes many people who became disabled while serving in the military. And, by the year 2030, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over age 65 and may need services and surroundings that meet their age-related physical needs. And they, like all Americans, want to fully and meaningfully participate in all their state and local government has to offer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Under Title II of the ADA, people with disabilities are entitled to all of the rights, privileges, advantages and opportunities that others have when participating in civic activities.
To help state and local governments understand how the ADA applies to their particular programs, services and activities, the department has published a new technical assistance document, ADA Update: A Primer for State and Local Governments. This 16-page illustrated guide provides practical, non-legal information that addresses Title II’s general nondiscrimination requirements, such as provisions relating to program accessibility, service animals, communicating with people with disabilities, power-driven mobility devices and policies and procedures. The document also addresses how the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design apply to existing buildings and facilities, new construction and alterations. In addition to this primer, the department helps state and local governments through Project Civic Access—a wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.
This new document is available on the department’s ADA Website at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/title_ii_primer.html. Also available on the ADA Website are a variety of additional technical assistance materials specifically for State and local governments addressing such topics as voting, emergency management, and community integration. Individuals who have questions about this document, the requirements of Title II, or the ADA in general may call the department’s ADA Information Line (1-800-514-0301, Voice; 1-800-514-0383, TTY). Specialists are available to answer questions Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), except on Thursdays when the hours are 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Calls are confidential.
By Stuart F. Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General
Earlier this week President Obama issued a proclamation designating Monday, June 15, 2015 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/12/presidential-proclamation-world-elder-abuse-awareness-day-2015). The President called on all Americans to observe the day by “learning the signs of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and by raising awareness about this important public health issue.” On Tuesday, Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, welcomed fifty advocates, physicians, prosecutors, researchers, representatives of financial institutions, and state and local government officials to the White House for an Elder Justice Forum to talk about how best to address and prevent elder abuse and financial exploitation. With more than 40 million Americans already older than 65, and with 10,000 more Americans joining their ranks every day, these are issues of increasing urgency.
The White House meeting participants clearly understood this urgency, and came to the Elder Justice Forum with innovative ideas for strengthening law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts in this arena; supporting research and victim services; and preventing and combatting elder financial exploitation. As the meeting participants shared their ideas with each other and with the senior Administration officials attending the forum, I was struck by several common themes:
We should employ multi-faceted, multi-cultural, and multi-disciplinary approaches to combat the mistreatment of older Americans. Victims of elder abuse and financial exploitation are likely to have contact with many different professionals in their communities. Unless those professionals – including 911 operators, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers, postal workers, health care providers, and bankers – are trained to ask the right (and culturally-appropriate) questions, to share information with one another, and to report their concerns to a single point of contact (such as a dedicated elder abuse prosecutor or case manager), many of our family members, friends, and neighbors will continue to suffer in silence.
We need to know more to do more. Our understanding of elder abuse lags far behind our knowledge of child abuse and domestic violence – a fact that is both alarming and unacceptable. While we have made some inroads on the research front, we must redouble those efforts and identify the factors that leave older adults vulnerable to mistreatment, screening tools for recognizing victims, and effective interventions to address and prevent mistreatment.
We can work better by working together. By far, the need to work together was the most resounding theme to echo throughout the day. Elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation do not recognize cultural, demographic, or geographic boundaries, and our efforts to develop sustainable and effective solutions must cross the same lines. While I am proud of the Administration’s elder justice work to date, we can achieve even more by working with our colleagues in state and local government and the private sector to improve the quality of life for this vulnerable – and growing – population.
This week’s Elder Justice Forum, as well as the White House Conference on Aging in July (http://www.whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov/), will create significant momentum behind this critical cause, and an opportunity to make meaningful progress in the fight against elder abuse and financial exploitation. We should seize that opportunity, because we owe our nation’s seniors nothing less.
Courtesy of Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women
As many of us are preparing for the end of school and summer vacation, communities across the world are gearing up to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15. WEAAD was launched in 2006, to shine a spotlight on the abuse and neglect experienced by millions of older adults that is too often overlooked or unreported. On this day, we have the opportunity to increase awareness about abuse in later life, learn what to do if we suspect abuse or neglect, and stand united against elder abuse.
The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) remains committed to raising awareness about abuse in later life. Since 2006, 77 communities have received funding through OVW’s Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program. The Abuse in Later Life Program has made it possible for thousands of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, and other professionals who work with older victims to receive vital training to on how to recognize and address elder abuse.
On April 22 – 23, 2015, OVW and the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) convened a roundtable with national leaders and subject matter experts to talk about ways to improve the criminal justice and victim services responses to elder abuse. Based on this roundtable, OVW is working with NCALL to identify enhanced training opportunities and resources for criminal justice professionals and develop guiding principles, standards and practice guidelines on effectively serving older victims/survivors of abuse for both domestic violence and sexual assault programs and aging services organizations.
As the percentage of Americans over the age of 50 continues to grow, the number of older adults experiencing abuse in later life is also increasing. We encourage you to get involved in local WEAAD events because you can make a difference. Here are some ideas:
Take advantage of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to highlight domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in later life in your community
Use the phrase “victims across the lifespan” to promote recognition of older victims in written materials
Include images of older adults in brochures, posters and presentations
Include examples of abuse in later life in educational events
Conduct outreach where older adults gather
Highlight older victims during domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking awareness months
Work collaboratively with experts in aging network services and elder abuse
Information and resources on elder abuse is available through the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Website and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). Additional information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day can be found on the Administration for Community Living website.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation visit, U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Website, NCEA’s State Resources webpage or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates joined the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) to honor 160 award recipients at the 31st Annual EOUSA Director’s Awards Ceremony.
“Our honorees include career executives and supervisors; Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys; appellate attorneys and law enforcement officials; administrators, paralegals, and public affairs officers,” said Attorney General Lynch. “These individuals, and so many others, have faced daunting and sometimes dangerous challenges. They have dedicated their leadership and their expertise, their time and their energy, to the service of their mission. And they have remained devoted, at all times, to the high ideals and deeply-held values that animate our country and our cause.”
The work recognized by these awards includes cases such as the largest organized crime prosecution targeting a Eurasian criminal enterprise, protecting the rights of our service members through USERRA, and prosecuting a serial rape and pornography case that spanned five years and involved more than 50 victims.
Today’s honorees have worked diligently and selflessly to protect the rights of Americans, and we applaud them for their pursuit of justice and commitment to excellence.
EOUSA provides oversight, general executive assistance, and direction to the 94 United States Attorneys’ offices around the country. For more information on EOUSA and its mission, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao.
Courtesy of Stuart F. Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General
The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services provides essential support to state, local, and tribal police departments. Led by a former police chief who served for over 28 years in the Oakland and East Palo Alto Police Departments, the COPS Office is one of the nation’s foremost resources on building trust and mutual respect between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. It has worked with hundreds of police departments to provide training, lead collaborative efforts to improve policies and practices, and coordinate emergency assistance in response to a crisis. It also administers grants that have allowed state, local, and tribal police departments to hire and retain an additional 126,000 officers, focused on top national priorities like preventing terrorism and violent crime.
Law enforcement organizations and civil rights leaders have praised the COPS Office’s work. And its work is all the more critical given the tensions that recent incidents in Baltimore, Ferguson, North Charleston, and elsewhere have laid bare.
But instead of maintaining or expanding the COPS Office’s programs, the budget that the House of Representatives is about to consider would effectively eliminate them. The White House Office of Management and Budget recently released a letter to the Hill expressing serious concerns about the House budget proposal. It would cut all funding for the COPS Office’s training and critical response efforts, as well as funding for advancing community policing innovation in the field. It would eliminate the COPS hiring grants. Almost all of the existing functions of the COPS Office would lose their entire budget at the start of the next fiscal year.
The proposed budget relocates the funding for peripherally related programs currently run out of other offices to the COPS Office. But none of that money would fund the efforts that have been at the core of the COPS Office’s success. The COPS program is just one of many examples of the troubling, short-sighted cuts that result from Congressional Republicans’ insistence on maintaining sequestration funding levels in their FY 2016 budget. Sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms.
Gutting the COPS Office would result in an estimated 1,300 fewer officers in cities and towns all across the country and diminish the capacity of the nation’s first responders. Its full impact, however, would go beyond the loss of law enforcement personnel safeguarding communities. That impact is best understood by looking at the kinds of remarkable support for police departments that also would be lost.
For example, after a dramatic increase in officer-involved shootings in 2011, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff recognized a problem and called the COPS Office for help. As part of a multi-year, voluntary collaborative review process, the COPS Office identified 75 findings and made recommendations that the department could implement to reduce the number of officer-involved shootings.
Three years after the initial report was issued, the Las Vegas department has implemented almost every recommendation. Officer-involved shootings involving unarmed suspects have been significantly reduced. The use of tasers, pepper spray, and batons has declined. And the number of arrests has gone down, while public safety and community relations have improved considerably.
Las Vegas is just one of the jurisdictions that have benefited from the COPS Office’s expertise. Large cities like Philadelphia, regional centers like Spokane and Fayetteville, and smaller cities like Calexico and Salinas in California all are currently working with the COPS Office to address issues ranging from use of force to racial profiling, training, accountability systems, and community engagement. Agencies across the nation are using COPS Office reports as self-assessment tools.
Just as importantly, when communities like Baltimore and Ferguson have faced crises, the COPS Office has helped law enforcement agencies respond swiftly, drawing on a nationwide network of experts and successfully connecting them with the people responsible for coordinating the law enforcement response on the ground. Within days of recent outbreaks of violence, for example, the COPS Office has assembled a group of experience police chiefs to provide advice on best practices for crowd control that respected First Amendment rights while also protecting officers. The COPS Office also provided critical response resources to police departments in Detroit, San Diego, New Orleans, and numerous other cities and towns facing a variety of challenges.
The payoff from an investment in the COPS programs has been more effective policing and safer communities. As we continue an emerging national dialogue about improving police-community relationships, the remarkable expertise and resources that the COPS Office brings to the table – including its ability to serve as a liaison between community and law enforcement leaders – are more important than ever. Eliminating such a resource would be disastrous. I urge Congress to restore funding for the COPS programs.
Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch
On May 20th, I was pleased to participate in the Justice Department’s Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Access to Justice, and the National Science Foundation. At this gathering, passionate advocates and dedicated legal professionals worked to identify the data, methods, and research that can inform our efforts to help low-income Americans acquire the legal aid they need and deserve. Drawn from a range of agencies and backgrounds—including both national and international experts, and federal participants from 25 offices—contributors discussed best practices, successful efforts, and new ideas to benefit the men, women, and children we strive to serve.
As someone who has spent my professional career practicing law—and having served on the board of advisors of groups like the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Federal Defenders Service of New York—I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by those who are too often left out and left behind in their efforts to achieve meaningful justice. Today, more than 20 percent of Americans are eligible for legal aid, yet due to insufficient resources, legal aid professionals are forced to turn away half of those who seek their assistance—from families in danger of being evicted from their homes to individuals experiencing domestic violence; from survivors of human trafficking who need access to legal services to victims of consumer fraud faced with foreclosures and illegal debt collection.
The Department of Justice is working to fill this significant need. Through the Access to Justice Initiative, we’re building partnerships across the country to expand legal aid and rethinking policies that reduce its impact. Thanks to the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which ATJ helped launch in 2012, more than two dozen federal grant programs—involving health care, citizenship, post-incarceration reentry, housing for veterans, and other federal priorities—have now been clarified to allow funding for legal services to further program goals. And under the Department’s recently-expanded Pro Bono Program, any DOJ employee can now use up to 30 hours of administrative leave for pro bono work that takes place during work hours, such as court appearances and mediations.
With the work of the Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop, we are taking another important step toward identifying strategies that will help us improve the ways we serve those who look to us for help. Among its important contributions, the workshop highlighted new research that shows how legal aid interventions can significantly improve lives and respond to critical civil justice needs. It put a spotlight on innovative cross-disciplinary tactics, such as combining medical and legal services under one roof. It also furthered the Department’s commitment to an evidence-based approach that will produce better outcomes for individuals in need of assistance.
The work of ensuring meaningful access to justice for every American is more than just a professional responsibility—it is a moral obligation and a national charge. It is at the very core of what this country stands for. Whether they are rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, every person in this country deserves equality under the law. Every person in this country deserves fair treatment from the civil justice system. And every person in this country deserves our best efforts in the service of that cause. In the days ahead—through workshops like this one, and additional efforts across the country—the Department will continue to fulfill that promise, continue to fight for those values, and continue to strive for justice.
Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
Twenty-five years ago, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month the Department of Justice is highlighting efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities. This month, we highlight the story of Attorney Tom Ross and his struggle to gain full and equal access to electronic court documents in Orange County, Florida.
Mr. Ross, who is blind, was representing the plaintiff in a case before the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. In all civil cases assigned to this court, documents must be filed electronically with the Orange County Clerk of Courts through an electronic case filing (ECF) system. Electronic documents, websites, and other electronic information (including PDF documents) can be accessible to blind people who use common screen reading technology, which reads electronic documents aloud. However, the electronic information must be formatted to be accessible for the screen reader, which can be done using common software programs.
Unfortunately, many of the documents in Mr. Ross’s case were filed in an inaccessible PDF format. And despite his multiple requests, the Clerk of Courts failed to provide Mr. Ross with an accessible version of these documents for 14 months. For example, at least one of the defendant’s motions in Mr. Ross’s case included over twenty exhibits, the majority of which were not accessible until defense counsel finally agreed to provide them in an accessible format four months after the original filing. Even after Mr. Ross began to receive most of defendant’s filings in an accessible format, all court orders remained in an inaccessible format to Mr. Ross for another year or more. These barriers limited Mr. Ross’s ability to practice his profession and represent his client. They also impacted his relationship with the judge presiding over the case and opposing counsel, both of whom refused Mr. Ross’s requests for accessibility.
Soon experiences like Mr. Ross’s will become a thing of the past. Last summer, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the Orange County Clerk of Courts to ensure that the Clerk of Courts will provide individuals with disabilities, like Mr. Ross, with any document in the court record in an accessible format upon request. The agreement also ensures that the Clerk of Courts’ website and ECF system are made fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including blind individuals, in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/.
Now 10 months into implementation of the three-year agreement, we are pleased to report that the Clerk of Courts has worked closely with the department to ensure equal access to court documents and other services of the Clerk of Courts for people with disabilities, including making significant improvements to their website and internal policies and procedures. The Clerk of Courts also paid $10,000 in damages to Mr. Ross and completed training on the ADA and WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility requirements. Mr. Ross is gratified to see these changes to the Clerk of Court’s website and procedures, enabling him and other blind individuals to access court documents they need to practice their profession or participate in cases in which they are a party. Access to court documents is critical to ensuring full and equal access to the courts—a right fundamental to our justice system.
Under Title II of the ADA and its implementing regulations, state and local government entities, such as the Orange County Clerk of Courts, are required to make their programs, services and activities accessible and to ensure their communications with qualified individuals with disabilities are equally effective as their communications with people without disabilities. The official court record is a program, service, and activity of the Clerk of Courts. Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or the obligations of state and local government entities under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. ADA complaints may be filed by online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.
Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery
As we pause to remember our fallen heroes this Memorial Day weekend, we remember also that the First Americans – Native Americans – have answered the call to service throughout our nation’s history, and have fallen on battlefields around the world. Sadly, that proud tradition of service has not always been answered with the blessings of citizenship, including access to voting polls.
Last week the Department of Justice proposed legislation that would require states or localities whose territory includes part or all of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village, or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by the tribal government. It would require states to make voting machines, ballots, and other voting materials and equipment available at tribal polling places to the same extent that they are available at other polling places in the state. By these and other measures, put simply, it would guarantee the same level of access to voting First Americans as most voting Americans enjoy today.
The causes for this gap in voter participation rates are complex and have been long in the making. American Indians and Alaska Native people have faced a history of discrimination affecting their right to vote and were not conferred citizenship until 1924. Even after this, many states continued to disenfranchise Indians by refusing to treat them as state residents and by imposing literacy tests. As recently as 1948, Indians, including veterans like the Navajo Code Talkers who recently had returned from the battlefields of World War II, were barred from voting in Arizona and New Mexico.
In 1975, recognizing the barriers to full participation that Native Americans continued to confront, Congress expressly included American Indians and Alaska Natives as protected groups under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited many jurisdictions with large American Indian or Alaska Native populations from changing their voting laws until they could prove that the change would not create new barriers to participation. A number of jurisdictions with large Native American populations that have limited English proficiency — in six states, including Alaska — are also covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires bilingual election materials and assistance.
Despite these reforms, participation rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to lag behind turnout rates among non-Native voters. Estimates suggest that nationwide, while nearly 64 percent of non-Native adult citizens cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election, less than 48 percent of Native American adult citizens voted. Part of that gap is attributable to differences in registration rates; but even among registered voters, the turnout among American Indians and Alaska Natives nationwide falls 5 to 14 percentage points below that of other racial and ethnic groups. And the gap with respect to Alaska Natives is especially large: Turnout among Alaska Natives often falls 15 to 20 or more percentage points below the non-Native turnout rate.
There are many examples of the problems American Indian and Alaska Native voters have faced getting to the polls. Residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota had to travel up to 150 miles roundtrip to vote until a federal court ordered the establishment of polling places on the reservation. And in Alaska, polling places to which Alaska Natives have been assigned are sometimes located across a river or other body of water or across a mountain range that is impassable on Election Day. The Alaska Division of Elections has assigned some Native villages to polling places that are 75 miles away and accessible only by air or boat.
For some potential voters, the inaccessibility of polling places poses only a minor barrier, since they can instead vote absentee. But that option is far less manageable for American Indian or Alaska Native voters with limited English proficiency, because they receive little or no assistance in navigating the bureaucratic process for obtaining and casting an absentee ballot. In Alaska, for example, the state has designated dozens of Yup’ik-speaking Native villages as “permanent absentee voting” sites where voters must fill out an English-language application to vote absentee in each election.
Currently, federal law does not specifically address the location of polling places, leaving the decision essentially in the hands of each state which in turn often give that responsibility to local jurisdictions.
Given the continued difficulties faced by American Indian and Alaska Native voters, this legislation is long overdue and needed if we are to adequately safeguard Native Americans’ voting rights. As citizens of a nation founded upon the principles of liberty and equality, Native Americans have faced unacceptable barriers to participating in the franchise, a situation aggravated by a history of discrimination, poverty and — significantly — great distances from polling places. The legislation proposed today would address this unacceptable gap and we look forward to working with Congress to see it enacted.
Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery
On Memorial Day, we remember the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we cherish. We mourn with the families and friends of those we have lost, hoping they find comfort in knowing their loved ones died with honor.
I find it useful and inspirational to reflect on the origin of the holiday we call Memorial Day, because its lessons of compassion and recovery resonate today. It began just after the Civil War, as Decoration Day, a time for the survivors of that terrible and tragic conflict to decorate the graves of the fallen which lay throughout the towns and counties of America -- especially in the South.
One of the first springtime tributes to the Civil War dead occurred in Columbus, Mississippi, on April 25, 1866. A group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they had been the enemy and their loved ones were far away. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves as well. This gesture of unity, one borne of a generosity of spirit, was part of the process of healing our Nation as Americans began to formalize the ways they honored those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
The first large national observance of Decoration Day was held two years later at Arlington National Cemetery. Speaking at the ceremony, President James Garfield recognized the sacrifices of the soldiers buried there, saying that “for love of country” they had “made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” Today, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, Americans from all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, and from all regions of our country, serve with valor, courage, and distinction as one people, united, in the Armed Forces of the United States.
This Memorial Day, let us renew our commitment to preserving the legacy of our brave citizens by continuing to work for peace, freedom, and security. And although we can never hope to repay the debt of gratitude our nation owes those who have served in the Armed Forces, we must never forget to acknowledge what we owe them. As Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, it is our duty “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Indeed, perhaps the best way we can honor the fallen is by supporting their families and by supporting servicemembers and veterans still with us today. Through the Department of Justice’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, we hope to help address the unique challenges that servicemembers face while on active duty, that veterans face upon returning home, and that families face when a loved one is deployed. That includes prioritizing enforcing the statutes specifically created to protect the civilian employment rights, voting rights, and financial security of those serving in the Armed Forces, and supporting programs, including Veterans Treatment Courts, that assist the more than 22 million veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or other mental health problems connected to their experiences while serving. Let us carry on the legacy of those who sacrificed their lives for our country by allowing servicemembers to focus on their work protecting the country and helping veterans take their rightful place in the country they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend.
Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
This Sunday marked the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case establishing that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Some sixty one years after Brown, the Department of Justice still works to uphold the promise of equal educational opportunities, including through its remaining desegregation cases. Although these cases originated decades ago, the educational opportunities at stake are no less important today than at the time of Brown.
This April, U.S. District Judge Madeleine Hughes Haikala of the Northern District of Alabama approved a consent order in the longstanding desegregation case Hereford v. Huntsville Board of Education. The order, referred to by the court as a “game changer” in the district’s path toward fully eliminating the effects of segregation, came after an extensive inquiry by the Department of Justice and months of conversations with the school district. It includes many key reforms. It will require the district to provide equal educational opportunities to African-American students by:
- revising attendance zones and growing and strengthening magnet programs to improve diversity at many of its schools;
- expanding access for African-American students to pre-kindergarten, gifted programs, advanced course offerings such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, academic after-school programs, and college counseling;
- implementing measures to promote faculty and administrator diversity;
- ensuring that all students are aware of and can equally participate in extracurricular activities;
- creating positive, inclusive school climates, and ensuring that student discipline is fair, non-discriminatory and does not unnecessarily remove students from classrooms;
- establishing a desegregation advisory committee of students and parents to advise the district and inform the court about implementation of the consent order;
- providing professional development for teachers on such topics as strategies for teaching students from diverse backgrounds, understanding implicit bias and supporting positive student behavior; and
- continuously monitoring racial disparities to ensure meaningful and sustained improvement in student performance, students’ access to courses and rates of student discipline and other areas.
There is no doubt that with full and faithful implementation, the consent order will provide many tangible benefits to African American students and to the entire school district. Judge Haikala’s opinion also made clear the important intangible benefits conveyed through the school district’s commitment. Judge Haikala’s opinion spoke directly to the students saying, “The consent order begins and ends with the district’s students – all of its students…The district believes in you and in your potential for success. We all do…. Think about how much the city of Huntsville will benefit from the contributions that you will make in the years ahead as teachers and engineers, as doctors and lawyers, as artists and musicians. You are an integral part of your community and have so much to offer.”
In Brown, the Supreme Court famously described the impact of racial discrimination on young students, noting the “feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” As we reflect on the legacy of Brown and the work still to be done, it is worth keeping in mind not only the damaging message sent by a discriminatory education system, but also the positive message conveyed when people do come together to ensure that all children have equal access to quality education.
Courtesy of Karen Lash, Access to Justice Initiative Deputy Director, U.S. Department of Justice
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Sciences Program (NSF LSS), are hosting a Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop in Washington, D.C. This invitation-only workshop will bring researchers and practitioners together to further explore the existing and needed research around civil legal aid and its intersection with public safety and criminal justice.
These workshops are important because research matters. But since the early 1980s basic research into access to civil justice has fragmented into a number of highly specialized literatures across law and social science disciplines. A consequence of that fragmentation is that little high quality, publicly available data exists today to guide policy and programmatic decisions.
That’s why ATJ staff participates in a range of practitioner and academic meetings like the ones happening today, to fill the research gap. As Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode wrote in the Journal of Legal Education, “The [ATJ] office’s interest in building bridges to legal academics prompted a meeting at Stanford University in 2011 under the sponsorship of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, the American Bar Foundation and the Harvard Program on the Legal Profession. One result of that meeting was the creation of a Consortium on Access to Justice. The mission of the consortium is to promote research and teaching on access to justice.”
Building on the Stanford convening, ATJ then hosted a series of meetings that led to a National Science Foundation (NSF) workshop led by principal investigator and American Bar Foundation (ABF) Fellow Rebecca Sandefur. The December 7-8, 2012 ABF workshop, entitled Access to Civil Justice: Re-Envisioning and Reinvigorating Research, was designed to identify key unanswered questions in access to justice central to both scholarship and practice, to open a conversation about partnerships on specific research projects and to launch a durable, national Access to Justice research program. The workshop, coupled with inspiration from NSF’s March 13, 2013 Dear Colleague Letter - Stimulating Research Related to the Use and Functioning of the Civil Justice System, contributed to the successful applications of four joint practitioner/researcher NSF applications on a range of topics such as studying outcomes from self-help strategies and representation in housing and small claims courts.
More recently, the March 27, 2015, remarks below by Karen Lash, Deputy Director, at the University of South Carolina School of Law Data2J Research Roundtable on Access to Justice, outlines the imperative to develop a robust body of literature in light of the Obama Administration’s evidence-based agenda that requires data to preserve, expand or propose new federal programs.
All of this combined explains why this administration—and the Justice Department in particular—seeks new funds in the 2016 budget request for nearly $3 million to build the department’s capacity for research and data collection related to civil legal aid.
During today’s event, a multi-disciplinary workshop will include domestic and international experts, including civil legal aid experts, researchers, government officials - including representatives of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable-, and private funders. A discussion of the ongoing United Nations activity to establish the post-2015 sustainable development goals and likely inclusion of access to justice in that framework will be included. ATJ will generate a report summarizing the presentations and discussions, including the participants’ recommendations on a research agenda and federal priorities to advance this work. The outcome report will be similar to a 2011 report that ATJ issued following a workshop on indigent defense research available here. That report helped inform federal research priorities and activities on indigent defense. We expect this civil legal aid counterpart to do the same.
For an overview of the current need for expanding available literature on civil legal aid and what works, see keynote remarks delivered last month by Karen Lash, ATJ Deputy Director, at the University of South Carolina School of Law, DATA2J Research Roundtable on Access to Justice, on March 26, 2015.
Attorney General Lynch and President Obama attended the National Peace Officers Memorial Service today at the U.S. Capitol, an annual ceremony honoring law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
In his remarks, President Obama honored the 131 peace officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, and praised the bravery of our nation’s law enforcement:
It takes a special kind of courage to be a peace officer. To be the one people turn to in their most desperate moments. To be willing to run into a dangerous situation, when everyone else is running the other way. Scripture tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves -- but only a special few take that commandment so deeply to heart that they are willing to risk their lives so that others -- often total strangers -- can know peace and security. And that’s what peace officers do.
On Wednesday night’s Annual Candlelight Vigil, Attorney General Lynch paid tribute to the law enforcement officers who had fallen:
Today, we celebrate and remember all that they were, all that they did and all that they stood for during the precious years we were privileged to have their service, their protection, their friendship and their love. Today, we share stories of their valor, their idealism, their humor and their grace. Today, we recommit ourselves to the high standard that they set for all of us – in the service of our country, and in support of our fellow Americans. We are all heirs to their weighty legacy and we must be champions of those they sought to protect.
Established in 1962, Police Week recognizes the service and sacrifice of U.S. law enforcement and honors law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Attorney General Lynch also attended memorials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Bureau of Prisons.
Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
Americans with disabilities can face many unnecessary barriers to employment, both during the job application process and on the job. These barriers can prevent people with disabilities from finding and maintaining a job, receiving promotions and ultimately being economically self-sufficient and independent.
During the job application process, applicants with disabilities may not want to disclose their disabilities to potential employers for a number of reasons, including the risk that the employer would refuse to hire them because of their disability. Sometimes employers stereotype people with disabilities or take adverse employment actions because of misinformation or ignorance about certain health conditions. Having to disclose a disability can deter people with disabilities even from applying for jobs out of fear of discrimination.
Recognizing these real risks, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to ask about whether an applicant has with a disability or about the nature of such disability before making a conditional offer of employment. Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, however, federal contractors subject to affirmative action requirements must invite an applicant voluntarily to self-identify as an individual with a disability, consistent with certain requirements.
Despite the ADA’s prohibitions, some employers still ask job applicants if they have a disability and about the nature of the disability, in violation of the ADA. Over the past few months, the Department of Justice found that several public employers were making these kinds of inquiries right in their job applications. To resolve these violations, the department entered into settlement agreements with nine different public entities. These jurisdictions include the entities Parowan, Utah; Española, New Mexico; DeKalb, Illinois; Vero Beach, Florida; Fallon, Nevada; Isle of Palms, South Carolina; Hubbard, Oregon; Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico; and Florida State University.
These settlement agreements require the entities to remove the unlawful questions from the applications and follow all requirements of the ADA with respect to job applicants and employees. Further, to help prevent future violations, the settlement agreements require that the employees who make hiring and personnel decisions be properly trained on the requirements of the ADA. In addition, the entities must designate an individual to address ADA compliance and report on compliance to the United States.
Today, many job applications are completed online. Another barrier to employment faced by some people with disabilities, such as those who are blind or have low vision, are deaf or hard of hearing, or have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity (such as limited ability to use a mouse), is that online job applications are not fully accessible to them. Individuals with these disabilities use assistive technology, such as screen reading software and captions, to access online information. But websites need to be designed to work with these technologies. Without the ability to access a job application, people with disabilities will not even have the opportunity to apply for a job in the first place. Several investigations conducted by the department found that the public entity’s online employment opportunities website or job applications were not fully accessible to people with disabilities. To resolve these violations, the entities must ensure that their online employment opportunities website and job applications comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which are industry guidelines for making web content accessible.
Ensuring that job applications are free from unlawful questions and accessible to all applicants is essential to enable people with disabilities to find work and advance in their jobs. With equal access to employment, hardworking Americans with disabilities can contribute as valued members of the workforce, and both justice and economic advancement are served.
For more information on the department’s ADA Title I employment discrimination settlement agreements and consent decrees, visit www.ada.gov.
Each year, federal departments and agencies are required by law to submit a report to the Attorney General detailing various statistics regarding their agency’s FOIA activities, such as the numbers of requests processed and received, and the time taken to process them. These Annual FOIA Reports, one-hundred in total for FY 2014, are compiled by OIP and posted on the Reports page of our site. The data from the agency Annual FOIA Reports is also uploaded onto FOIA.gov, the Justice Department’s government-wide FOIA resource.
In order to provide agency personnel and the public with a comprehensive picture of the government’s FOIA activities during the fiscal year, OIP routinely creates a summary of the information contained within agency Annual FOIA Reports. Today, we posted our summary of these reports for FY 2014 (PDF). As in previous years, the summary looks at government-wide data for many key statistics in FOIA administration and highlights significant numbers reported by individual agencies. Additionally, the summary identifies trends in FOIA processing by comparing the FY 2014 Annual FOIA Report data with data from prior fiscal years.
As described in this year’s summary, during FY 2014, agency FOIA Offices received a record high 714,231 requests while also facing several other challenges including reduced staffing, tough fiscal times, and a three week government shutdown during which requests continued to come in when there was no staff available to process them. Managing these challenges, the government overall was able to process 647,142 requests while continuing to maintain a high release rate of over 91% for the sixth year in a row. The government overall also improved its average processing times for simple and complex track requests.
OIP’s Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2014 is available on our Reports page where it can be compared with previous summaries dating back to FY 2006. The data collected in agency Annual FOIA Reports can also easily be viewed, compared, and analyzed on FOIA.gov.
Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason of the Office of Justice Programs
The responsibility for building and maintaining civic trust rests with every sector of society, from criminal and juvenile justice agencies to our human services system, and from faith-based groups to families. In its report to the president, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing said that technologies like body-worn cameras “can improve policing practices and build community trust and legitimacy,” and recommended several actions aimed at ensuring their effective and transparent use.
Today, Attorney General Lynch announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership Program to respond to the immediate needs of local and tribal law enforcement organizations. The investment includes $17 million in competitive grants for the purchase of body-worn cameras, $2 million for training and technical assistance and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) expects to make up to 50 awards to law enforcement agencies, with about one-third of the grants directed toward smaller agencies. The grants, which require a 50/50 in-kind or cash match, can be used to purchase equipment so long as applicants establish a strong plan for implementation and a robust training policy before purchasing the cameras. The long-terms costs associated with storing information will be the financial responsibility of each local agency.
BJA also will launch a BWC Implementation Toolkit this month, designed as an online resource for stakeholders. This toolkit will focus on implementation requirements, retention issues, policy concerns, interests of prosecutors, victim and privacy advocates’ concerns, and community engagement and funding considerations.
Body-worn cameras are not a cure-all, but they can be a valuable tool for planting the seeds of trust in our communities, and they will provide an additional measure of safety for law enforcement officers, who work so hard and under such tremendous pressure to protect our communities. I am pleased to make these resources available to our partners in the law enforcement community and look forward to helping them strengthen the bonds of trust with the citizens they serve.
Yesterday, the Office on Violence Against Women, along with many of our STOP State Administrators, joined survivors, advocates, law enforcement officers, government officials, and countless others in communities and campuses nationwide for Denim Day 2015. Denim Day originated in the 1990s in response to the Italian Supreme Court’s reversal of a rape conviction in which the Chief Judge argued: “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.” People wore jeans to work on the established “Denim Day” as a way of protesting the verdict. Since then, Denim Day has become a national rape prevention campaign.
As we come to the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is important that we continue to join together to raise awareness, educate our communities, support survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable. As President Obama stated in his National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Proclamation, “It's on all of us to work for the change we need to shift the attitudes and behaviors that allow sexual assault to go unnoticed, unreported, and unpunished.” To that end, we are excited to announce a new Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) special project to promote justice for sexual assault victims and accountability for offenders.
The Sexual Assault Justice Initiative (SAJI) is an opportunity to improve how the justice system in general, and prosecution in particular, handles sexual assault cases. Through the SAJI, OVW will identify ways to enhance prosecution strategies by developing performance measures that look beyond conviction rates to track prosecutorial success, reflect best practices for prosecuting sexual assault that hold offenders accountable, and give victims the justice they deserve.
At OVW, we know that only a fraction of victims report their assaults to law enforcement, and, of the victims who do report, as many as half or even more will likely see their cases dropped during the investigation or prosecution phase. We also know that sexual assault cases can be difficult to prosecute, which is why OVW created the SAJI.
We plan to release a competitive funding announcement in late spring inviting applications from prosecutors’ offices across the country that are interested in adopting the performance measures, implementing best practices for prosecuting sexual assault, and using victims’ perspectives to inform their work. With funding from this initiative, AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women will work with OVW and experts in the field to develop the performance measures and help the pilot sites implement them. With AEquitas and the pilot sites as our partners, we look forward to crafting solutions to persistent challenges that leave too many victims without justice.
In addition to the prosecution-focused work, sites will be able to use the funds to strengthen other services in their communities that support sexual assault victims. OVW anticipates selecting up to eight sites to receive two-year awards of up to $400,000 each.
In keeping with our commitment to evaluating the effectiveness of VAWA programming, we are partnering with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to assess the impact of these new indicators on case retention and attrition, charging decisions, case dispositions, and victims’ and other stakeholders’ perceptions of retributive, restorative, and procedural justice. NIJ released a funding announcement for the evaluation of the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative on February 27, 2015. Applications are due today. We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the evaluation to read the NIJ solicitation.
OVW is excited to share this news and looks forward to working with AEquitas and the selected sites to strengthen the justice system’s response to sexual violence. Additional information about the SAJI, including the competitive solicitation, will be posted on our website as it becomes available.
We are pleased to announce the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative as part of our ongoing effort to ensure justice for survivors of sexual assault—a priority that has held the unwavering support of President Obama and Vice President Biden. Together, we will continue to build a future free of sexual violence.
To learn more about the challenges of prosecuting sexual assault and the ways conviction rates fail to measure prosecutorial success, see Beyond Conviction Rates: Measuring Success in Sexual Assault Prosecutions, available from AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women.
If you or someone you know needs help, you are not alone. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated but RAAIN, at 1-800-656-HOPE, or chat with an advocate online through the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. Check the NSVRC Resources page for news, publications, and links to other services organizations.
Courtesy of John C. Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment & Natural Resources Division
April is widely recognized by many national and local organizations as a time to renew awareness of the issue of animal cruelty. The images that we often see of animal cruelty cases can be profoundly disturbing – they strike a deep chord within us and raise concerns about related crimes, including interpersonal abuse. But the issue of animal welfare is not purely a local one, confined to the treatment of household pets. Animal welfare is also an important national issue that has a long history in American law, dating back to the early colonial era. At the federal level, Congress has repeatedly made clear that ensuring the humane treatment of animals – whether by a zoo, commercial breeder, horse show, laboratory, or even a slaughterhouse – is a national policy. And it is a policy that carries with it enforcement responsibilities.
As part of DOJ's law enforcement mission, we play a role in the enforcement of a number of federal animal welfare laws, along with key partners such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One such area has been our effort to combat underground dog fighting schemes, where drug trafficking, gun running, and gang activities are commonplace. It is astonishing to hear some estimates reveal that there are over 40,000 active professional dog fighters in the United States. Over the years, the U.S. Attorney's Offices have charged hundreds of defendants involved in these illegal animal fighting ventures. In 2014 alone, DOJ pursued ten dog fighting cases and charged 49 defendants, marking a significant upswing in federal enforcement. Cases like United States v. Anderson – brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Alabama – highlight the seriousness of this crime. Anderson involved the second largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history, with over 400 dogs seized, 13 defendants indicted, sentences as high as eight years, and a restitution order of $2 million for the care of the seized animals.
In recent years, DOJ has also worked to enhance federal coordination and support our state and local law enforcement partners on a variety of animal welfare issues. DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has helped over 1,500 law enforcement professionals to better detect, investigate, and take action against dog fighting through an online training program developed in partnership with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And in 2014, FBI Director James Comey announced a historic change in the identification and reporting of animal cruelty crimes. For the first time, rather than being categorized as miscellaneous offenses, animal cruelty crimes will be distinctly reported as such in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (the FBI's crime statistics database). This change will enable law enforcement, researchers, and policymakers to better understand and respond to these crimes.
Finally, as Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, I am particularly pleased that late last year, DOJ designated this Division as the centralized body within DOJ that will help track, coordinate, and work with the U.S. Attorney's Offices on animal cruelty enforcement matters. These are only first steps, and we have more work to do. But we will not turn a blind eye to those who violate these important, long-standing federal laws that protect the vulnerable and voiceless.
Courtesy of Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to join with Director Botticelli of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to convene the first meeting of the Attorney General’s Heroin Task Force. The meeting was the first step in bringing together federal agency experts from law enforcement, medicine, public health and educational fields to help develop a coordinated response to our nation’s heroin crisis.
Make no mistake—there is a heroin crisis. The numbers are staggering. In 2013 alone:
- More than 680,000 Americans used heroin;
- More than 8,200 Americans died of a heroin overdose; and
More than 160,000 Americans tried heroin for the first time, including more than 20,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17.
It does not matter if you live in an urban area or a rural area, on the East Coast or the West Coast, in the heartland or in Indian Country, this problem is affecting families in every corner of our country. The epidemic involves not simply heroin, but also a number of prescription opioids, which, when abused, can drive users towards addiction.
When Congress directed the Department of Justice to create this Task Force, it called for a comprehensive solution, not an easy one. No single federal agency can solve this crisis alone.
Certainly law enforcement will play a crucial role, and we will continue to prosecute those who are distributing heroin on the streets of our country. But we can’t simply arrest our way out of this problem. It’s going to take many people from many disciplines working together on an holistic approach. That’s why we’ve asked U.S. Attorney David Hickton for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Deputy Director Mary Lou Leary for State, Local, and Tribal Affairs at ONDCP to serve as Co-Chairs of the Task Force. Together they have assembled a wide variety of stakeholders—not just agents and prosecutors, but also doctors, social workers, and addiction specialists—in hopes of developing lasting solutions rather quick fixes.
Starting this week, the Task Force will form committees and create a strategic plan that will be submitted to Congress and the President by end of 2015. This strategic plan will provide a framework for national, regional, and local efforts to reduce both the supply and use of heroin.
This is a daunting task. But with the collective efforts of the members of this Task Force, I’m confident that we will build on the Administration’s ongoing public health and safety approach to combatting the opioid epidemic, and have a real impact on this terrible problem.
Courtesy of John C. Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division
In celebration of Earth Day, this morning I joined Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and volunteers from the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) and Washington Parks & People at Marvin Gaye Park in Washington, D.C. The Community Greening Center in Marvin Gaye Park is a neighborhood-based nursery for plants and trees as well as an environmental education resource center. This year was also a very special occasion for Washington Parks and People as they marked their 25th anniversary.
These volunteers, who have been coming here each Earth Day for the past 12 years, have accomplished great things on a local scale, improving the quality of the environment and the quality of life for a historic neighborhood by planting trees, clearing debris from the park and nearby stream, and making other improvements to the Greening Center so it can become a center of community life.
On a national scale, the Justice Department’s ENRD staff was also responsible for reaching two major settlements that will benefit the health and environment of residents in different corners of the country. Today, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Colorado announced a settlement with Houston-based Noble Energy, Inc. resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations stemming from the company’s natural gas production activities in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, north of Denver, Colorado. And in a settlement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company and Mobil Pipe Line Company, the companies have agreed to pay $4.19 million in civil penalties, to implement a supplemental environmental project, and to take corrective measures to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and state environmental laws stemming from a 2013 crude oil spill from the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas.
Also as in previous years, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division released its accomplishments report for the past fiscal year. It discusses the major enforcement and defensive cases, as well as other priorities of the Division over the last year.
In the past year, the Division successfully litigated 926 cases and handled a total of 6,588 cases, matters, and appeals. We recorded over $400 million in civil and criminal fines, penalties, and costs recovered. The estimated value of federal injunctive relief – clean-up and pollution prevention actions funded by private parties – exceeded $6.2 billion. ENRD also saved the taxpayers money, avoiding claims of over $2.0 billion. The Division achieved a favorable outcome in 93 percent of cases, resulting in cleaner air, land, and water in the United States
Among our top priorities this year are: the continued litigation of all aspects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; enforcing and defending EPA’s rules and regulations promulgated under the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gases and conventional pollutants; combating wildlife trafficking; promoting responsible energy development; protecting tribal sovereignty, tribal lands and resources, and tribal treaty rights, vigorously litigating while maintain our commitment to integrity and the rule of law. In all of our work, we continue to pursue the goals of environmental justice by ensuring that all communities enjoy the benefit of a fair and even-handed application of the Nations’ environmental laws and affected communities have a meaningful opportunity for their voices to be heard in all appropriate instances
In January, I returned to ENRD as the Assistant Attorney General following my Senate confirmation. I have had the honor and privilege of spending over two decades at the Department of Justice, first as Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section and then the Division’s career Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and during that time, I have witnessed the extraordinary efforts of career public servants who work countless hours, representing the United States in federal courts across our great nation. The division’s backbone is those career professionals who have dedicated their lives to public service: upholding our laws, improving the environment, protecting our natural resources, and assuring the health and safety of our citizens.
For more information about Washington Parks & People and Marvin Gaye Park, visit http://www.washingtonparks.net/
Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
Twenty-five years ago, our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities—through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month the Department of Justice will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities. This month, we spotlight the story of Chris Rifendifer and accessible documents in Madison County, New York.
Chris Rifendifer is legally blind. He relies on Medicaid and food stamps to help him take care of himself and his family. But when he received forms from Madison County, New York, that needed to be completed and submitted to receive benefits, he could not read or complete the forms because they were not available in an accessible format. Chris knew that he needed help with this paperwork, so he went to the Madison County Department of Social Services; the county agency responsible for administering these vital programs.
Unfortunately, Chris did not get the assistance he had hoped for. When he asked for forms in large print, an accessible format for him, so that he could complete the forms, county staff said no. They told him that because the forms were from the State nothing could be done. Knowing that these benefits were essential to help feed his family, Chris swallowed his pride and asked county staff for help filling out the forms. His embarrassment was amplified when they told him, “we don’t fill out forms; you’ll have to find someone else to do it for you.”
Over the next three years, experiences like Rifendifer’s will become a thing of the past. Madison County and the Justice Department have reached an agreement under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA. One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that Madison County communicate effectively with people with disabilities, including providing documents in alternate accessible formats such as Braille, large print, recordings, and accessible electronic format.
Rifendifer has told the department that “Unfortunately, things like this had been going on for a long time. I am glad to see that the county will be changing how it responds to requests for assistance in the future.”
Under the agreement, Madison County, New York, is also required to comply with the ADA’s architectural accessibility requirements in remediating existing buildings, when it builds new buildings and when it alters its buildings. Additionally, it requires the county to publish and distribute ADA information, use the New York telephone relay service as a key means of communicating with individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or have speech impairments, conduct ADA training and submit to monitoring of its compliance with the agreement by the department.
Over the past 15 years, nearly 220 communities have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to ensure that their citizens with disabilities enjoy the same services, programs and activities that all others enjoy. For information on how jurisdictions can participate in Project Civic Access visit www.ada.gov.
Blog courtesy of Vanita Gupta Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the work of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to address and prevent sexual assault in schools and communities across the country. The impact of sexual assault can reverberate throughout a community, and the response to sexual assault within a community – from a residential advisor in a college dorm to a special victim’s unit detective – has a profound and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a sexual assault survivor.
Over the past few years, the division has engaged with law enforcement, prosecutors and schools to promote a comprehensive, integrated and effective response to reports of sexual assault. In doing so, we look to assist both schools and law enforcement in their efforts to protect students and address the needs of sexual assault survivors. As more people across the country are working together to prevent and improve the response to sexual assault, questions are frequently asked about the role of colleges and universities and why sexual assault is not handled exclusively by law enforcement.
Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a crime and must be dealt with appropriately. However, the responsibility for addressing sexual assault does not stop at law enforcement. Schools also have a civil rights obligation to respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault.
Every school is responsible for providing a safe, nondiscriminatory environment to all students. Sexual assault can interfere with or destroy a student’s ability to get an education. We have heard from survivors of sexual assault who are fearful of being in the same classroom as their attackers or are subjected to harassment and retaliation by classmates for reporting the assault. We have heard from too many students who left school after being assaulted.
Under federal civil rights laws, schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, investigate where appropriate and provide a prompt, effective and impartial resolution. It is not enough just to respond to individual complaints from survivors. To effectively address and prevent sexual assault, schools need to respond to reports from all sources, especially when assaults are repeatedly perpetrated by the same student or at the same location. Having an appropriate and effective response system in place increases student confidence and trust in their school and the ability of the school to provide for their safety.
To provide a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment, schools must be able to administer discipline where appropriate. This administrative response serves a unique and critically important function and must happen in addition to any criminal prosecution. A school disciplinary proceeding is not, however, a criminal proceeding, and should never be viewed as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Schools do not have the authority and are not asked to determine whether alleged perpetrators of sexual assault committed a crime.
That is the role of law enforcement. And law enforcement – including campus police, local police and prosecutors – play a critical role: as one of the key responders to reports of sexual assault, and as partners with schools, victim advocates and others in the effort to protect the community from sexual assault. Indeed, the importance of communication and coordination among each of these partners in both responding to and preventing sexual assault cannot be underestimated. In our experience, when everyone works together, survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report and to receive services, exhibit greater confidence in the criminal justice and school systems and feel far better supported throughout the process.
In Missoula, Montana, to address serious shortcomings in how the University of Montana-Missoula and local law enforcement investigated and responded to sexual assaults, the division reached agreements with the university, its campus police, the city police department and the county prosecutor’s office. This first of its kind multi-pronged approach to combating sexual assault – which reaches from the campus to the courthouse door – has resulted in significant improvements in the response to sexual assault within the Missoula community. We, along with our colleagues at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are working with leaders from across the community as they implement these agreements so that whenever sexual assaults are reported, policies and procedures are already in place; first responders and investigators are trained to handle the report appropriately; and supports and services are more readily available and better coordinated. It is with this kind of focused attention and collaboration that sexual assault can be eradicated from our communities and students can feel safe and supported in school.
Attorney General Holder and Acting Deputy Attorney General Yates today welcomed approximately 160 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) from 89 of the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country. This class of AUSAs represents the nation’s best and brightest litigators who have chosen to serve the public interest. AUSAs ensure our laws are faithfully executed and represent the federal government in virtually all litigation involving the United States.
The Justice Department is proud of its talented and dynamic workforce and recognizes that its employees are its most important asset. The Department is stronger, more credible, and more effective when its workforce includes highly-qualified individuals whose backgrounds reflect our nation’s rich diversity.
The Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management leads the Department’s outreach and recruitment efforts, and opportunities are available for attorneys and law students in nearly every legal practice area.
The Department has four main hiring programs:
the Summer Law Intern Program for paid summer internships,
the Attorney General’s Honors Program for entry-level attorneys,
Information about these programs, including specific job opportunities, eligibility criteria, and application deadlines can be found on the Justice Legal Careers website at or the free mobile app DOJ Law Jobs. More information about the U.S. Attorneys’ offices can be found at http://www.justice.gov/usao.
Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
I will never forget earning my first paycheck. The sense of pride and of paying your own way sticks with you.
But today on Equal Pay Day, we are reminded us that far too many women are being paid much less than they are worth. The statistic is well known but is worth repeating - women earn about 78 cents to a man’s dollar. Because they earn less, a woman needs to work an extra four months until April 2015 to earn as much as a man did by in 2014. Industry, geography, education and other factors limit the disparity but do not take it away. And women of color face an even greater wage gap.
Many times pregnancy causes women to lose their jobs or be paid less perhaps because employers value women less when they are caregivers or because our work places make it difficult to be a caregiver and a worker. Given that the overwhelming majority of women will become mothers in their working years, this is a constant problem.
That is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS is good news on this Equal Pay Day. The decision enhances our ability to fight for women and equal pay by putting teeth into the equal treatment provision of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). I am proud to say that the Department of Justice filed a brief in the case supporting Young’s claims.
The PDA requires that pregnant women be treated the same as other employees with similar ability or inability to work. Young was a challenge to an unfortunately all too common employer policy: providing job modifications or light duty assignments to some workers but denying them to pregnant women.
Young, a delivery driver for UPS, needed light duty or help with lifting packages because her pregnancy limited her ability to lift. UPS refused to allow Young to keep working in light of the lifting restriction. Young went on unpaid leave and eventually lost her health insurance. UPS claimed that its policy was legal even though it routinely granted accommodations or found other work for three categories of employees who were eligible for accommodations under its policy. UPS said that pregnant women were treated the same as workers who were unable to perform their jobs but who did not fall into the three categories covered by the policy.
The court decided that in pregnancy cases, a woman can prove intentional discrimination by showing that an employer gave job modification to workers with similar restrictions, that the employer’s policy created a significant burden on pregnant women and that the reasons for that policy were not sufficiently strong to justify the burden. The case will now return to the lower court to be judged under that standard.
Interestingly, as the case wound its way to the Supreme Court, UPS voluntarily changed its policy to enable pregnant women to keep working, and some states passed new anti-discrimination laws that require such accommodations.
Young, the new state laws, and policy changes at employers like UPS will allow a woman to stay on the job and keep receiving a pay check—something that will make an enormous difference in a woman’s ability to take care of herself and her family.
In addition to high-profile cases like Young, the Civil Rights Division fights for equal pay in its day-to-day cases. This year, the division reached a settlement with Clark County, Nevada, after it found that the county paid its female Director of Diversity significantly less than white and male employees whose duties were similar. Additionally, the division filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania State Police for alleged use of a physical test that disproportionately screens out women and is not related to the job. Further, the division reached a settlement with the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Department to revise personnel policies and procedures to prevent harassment and retaliation following the firing of a female deputy sheriff who was sexually assaulted by the Sheriff’s brother.
These cases – and the fact that a woman has to work four months longer than a man to earn the same amount– show that we still have a long way to go. But these cases also show how far we can go. The women in these cases are directors, police officers, firefighters, and sheriffs. And this year, a truck driver won an important victory for women’s rights. Remember that, and keep working with us to move Equal Pay Day back to December 31st where it belongs.