This week, the nation will celebrate the birthday of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, the Civil Rights Division remembers the cases it has brought to safeguard the civil rights of all Americans in the last year.
Some examples of the Civil Rights Division’s recent accomplishments include:
Ensuring the Right to Fair Housing:
Operation Home Sweet Home: Two years ago, the Civil Rights Division began a concentrated initiative to expose and eliminate housing discrimination in America. As a result of its undercover housing investigations, on January 18, 2008, the Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit against apartment owners in Michigan, alleging they engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African-American home-seekers in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Operation Home Sweet Home improved the Civil Rights Division’s Fair Housing testing program. The program is conducted primarily through paired tests, an event in which two individuals — one acting as the “control group” (e.g., white male) and the other as the “test group” (e.g., black male) — pose as prospective buyers or renters of real estate for the purpose of determining whether a housing provider is complying with the fair housing laws.
The Division’s Fair Housing testing program conducted more fair housing tests in fiscal year 2007 than it has ever conducted in a single year. The Housing and Civil Enforcement Section filed 30 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, including four based on evidence generated by the testing program.
This past year, the Division obtained a $725,000 settlement against the owners and operators of another Michigan apartment complex who discriminated against African Americans seeking to rent apartments at the complex.
The Prosecution of Criminal Civil Rights Violations:
In fiscal year 2007, the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section set a record for the highest number of defendants ever convicted in one year in the history of the Section (189), surpassing last year’s record number of 181 defendants convicted.
Last month, the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section obtained a 3 year prison sentence for a defendant who burned a cross with the intent to drive African-American victims from their home. In the last seven years, the Civil Rights Division has brought 41 cross-burning prosecutions and convicted 60 defendants for these heinous crimes.
Last summer, former Ku Klux Klan member James Seale was sentenced to three life sentences for his involvement in the 1964 abduction and murder of two young African-American men in Mississippi. The FBI has a cold case initiative to identify additional unresolved civil rights era murders.
From fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2007, the Department of Justice convicted over 50 percent more defendants with official misconduct, or color of law, violations than were convicted from fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 2000 (391 vs. 256). In a recent case, the Section obtained a life sentence against a corrections officer who brutally beat an African-American inmate to death in a Mississippi county jail.
Ensuring the Right to Equal Employment:
The Civil Rights Division ensures equal employment opportunities through its enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fiscal year 2006, the Employment Litigation Section filed as many lawsuits challenging a pattern or practice of discrimination as during the last three years of the previous Administration combined.
In May 2007, the Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit against the largest fire department in the United States, the Fire Department of New York. This suit alleges that since 1999, the City of New York has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African American and Hispanic applicants for the position of entry-level firefighter. This is the fourth pattern or practice lawsuit filed under Title VII on behalf of African Americans during this Administration.
Safeguarding Voting Rights:
The Civil Rights Division ensures equal access to the polls through its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Last year, the Division filed a lawsuit against Euclid, Ohio, under the Voting Rights Act. The Department prevailed following trial; the judge ruled that the city’s method of electing its city council violated the Voting Rights Act. Although African-Americans comprise nearly 30 percent of the city’s electorate, and there had been eight recent African-American candidates for Euclid City Council, not a single African-American candidate had ever been elected to the nine-member city council or to any other city office.
During the last six years, the Civil Rights Division has filed approximately 60 percent of all cases filed in its entire history under the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and the first cases in its history on behalf of Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean voters.
During calendar year 2006, the Division’s Voting Section filed 18 new lawsuits – which is more than twice the average number of lawsuits filed by the Division annually over the preceding 30 years.
Protecting Religious Liberties:
The Civil Rights Division works to protect citizens from discrimination based on religion, and has substantially increased its enforcement of federal laws protecting religious liberties in recent years in all its areas of its jurisdiction, including education, housing, employment, and criminal prosecutions of attacks on persons and houses of worship because of religion.
Since 2001, the Civil Rights Division has reviewed more than 140 cases involving the land-use protection of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) and has opened 35 full investigations. These have included investigations involving Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist houses of worship and religious schools. Many of these have been resolved out of court through voluntary modification of potentially discriminatory zoning regulations. The Division also has filed four RLUIPA lawsuits.
On February 20, 2007, the Department of Justice announced a new initiative, The First Freedom Project, to educate community, religious, and civil rights leaders, attorneys and the general public about these rights and how to file complaints with the Department of Justice. The initiative includes a series of regional training seminars around the country, distribution of informational literature, and a new website, ww.FirstFreedom.gov.
The Division’s enforcement records in these areas are just some of many important ways we honor Dr. King’s vision for America. For more information about the Division and the laws it enforces, go to http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.