Justice Blogs

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

Twenty six years ago today, when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, he called it “powerful in its simplicity” and explained, “It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”

For more than two decades, the Department of Justice has worked tirelessly to enforce the ADA, ensuring that people with disabilities can live their lives with the autonomy, opportunity and dignity they deserve.  Around the country, through litigation, technical assistance, guidance and regulatory work, we protect the rights of people with disabilities to vote, live, work and learn in their own communities, free from discrimination.

Today, Zavier no longer earns $1.70 per hour assembling small company parts.  Instead, with employment support, he works at a local YMCA, helping kids complete their homework and resolve their conflicts.  The agreement the department and private plaintiffs reached with Oregon last year will impact 7,000 Oregonians with disabilities – Oregonians, like Zavier, who can and want to work in typical community employment settings.

Xavier, who now works a local YMCAJayla and her family, who will soon be able to access and enjoy the local playgroundJoe, who can make online mortgage payments on Wells Fargo’s website and not have to pay a $25 service fee over the phone

Today, because of reforms mandated by a 2015 Justice Department agreement in Robeson County, North Carolina, Jayla and other children in wheelchairs will soon get the chance to access their local playgrounds, to enjoy their childhood and to play with their siblings and friends, just as all kids deserve.

Today, because of a settlement agreement the department reached with Augusta County, Virginia, last year, voters with mobility or vision impairments can access their polling places, so they can participate in our democracy without facing unlawful, unnecessary barriers to the ballot box.  To build on this work, last year we launched a new ADA Voting Initiative – in partnership with our U.S. Attorney colleagues – to ensure that people with disabilities get an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, including in the 2016 presidential elections.  And just last month, we also published technical assistance on polling place accessibility for voters with disabilities.

And today, in part because of our efforts, Joe, who is blind, can make online mortgage payments on Wells Fargo’s website and not have to pay a $25 service fee over the phone.  Under the settlement agreement the department reached with Wells Fargo in 2011, people with disabilities – including those who are blind and deaf – won’t face unlawful discrimination when trying to pay their bills.
 
These stories represent just a sample of our success.  Despite our impactful efforts over the past 26 years, we recognize that there are many unaddressed challenges and unresolved barriers in our communities.  These barriers don’t just hurt people with disabilities; they impact all of us.  Helping people with disabilities live meaningful, enjoyable and productive lives enables our country to reach its full potential.  So we must forge on until growing up with a disability in America no longer leads to discrimination; until we, as a nation, recognize the dignity and value of every person without question and until – to quote President Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony – “the shameful wall of exclusion finally come[s] tumbling down.”  
Topic(s):
Civil Rights
Friday, July 22, 2016

The inaugural meeting of the newly established Chief FOIA Officers Council will be held on July 22, 2016. President Obama recently signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which, among other things, established a Chief FOIA Officer Council. The Chief FOIA Officer Council is co-chaired by the Directors of OIP and OGIS and is made up of each agency Chief FOIA Officer and the Deputy Director of Management of OMB. In accordance with the new law, the Council is tasked with developing recommendations for improving FOIA, sharing best practices, and developing and coordinating initiatives.

The meeting will be held at 2:00pm on July 22, 2016 in Room 430 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building; 1650 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20502

You can view a livestream of this meeting at www.wh.gov/live beginning at 2pm. You can also follow the meeting through OIP's Twitter account @FOIAPost and through the hashtag #CFOCouncil.

A limited number of seats are available for members of the public to attend in person. For security purposes registration is required. Please email DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “CFO Council Meeting – Public” by COB on July 18, 2016 to request a seat. On July 19, we will respond to your email to confirm your attendance and provide a link for you to formally register by July 21 at 12pm.  

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Friday, July 22, 2016

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

In a meeting with community leaders at the White House this morning, the Justice Department issued its final report from “Combating Religious Discrimination Today,” an interagency community engagement initiative we launched in March to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes.

Across the federal government, we believe that robust and proactive enforcement of our civil rights laws requires meaningful and substantial engagement with communities.  From March through June – in collaboration with our outstanding U.S. Attorney colleagues and federal agency partners – we held seven roundtables in six cities to learn firsthand about religious discrimination in our communities and to solicit feedback from faith leaders, civil rights advocates and community members about how we in the federal government can address these issues.

 Government officials and community members discussed issues related to religious discrimination in employment at a roundtable held in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 20, 2016. 

The report we released today provides an overview of what we found.  It addresses the overarching themes – in terms of the challenges highlighted, the trends identified and the proposals shared – across four key issue areas where we know religious discrimination continues to be a significant problem: education, hate crimes, employment and land use.

In education, we heard that while we need to recognize the constitutional limitations on teaching about religion in schools, we also need to make sure that students learn about diverse religious communities.  In employment, we heard that both employers and employees – including people of various faiths and people who identify as non-religious – lack awareness about how our civil rights laws provide faith-based protections in the workplace.  To combat hate violence, we heard that as houses of worship face an uptick in attacks, communities need more resources and support to keep their congregants safe.  And in land use, we heard how municipalities simply don’t know enough about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and how it applies, especially in situations where it conflicts with state or local laws.

Across all of these areas, we heard people from different backgrounds and perspectives say that the federal government – through outreach, guidance and communication – needs to do more to make the protections of our laws a reality for all.  Of course, we didn’t just organize these roundtables to hear about problems.  We also wanted to craft solutions.

Back in March, I joined U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman of the District of New Jersey in announcing a new enforcement initiative where the Civil Rights Division will partner with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country to strengthen our ability to address religious discrimination in schools.  Today the division is updating its website to ensure communities know about our work to combat hate violence and enforce laws such as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  And today we also published an update on our RLUIPA enforcement in a new report that highlights some critical trends.  To note just one key finding, from 2000–2010, 15 percent of our land use investigations involved Muslim communities; during the past six years, 38 percent of them have.  We continue to take steps to educate municipal leaders about their obligations under RLUIPA and we look forward to announcing more resources across all these areas in the coming months.

Beyond the policy ideas, at every single roundtable we also saw firsthand another critical tool to protecting religious diversity and combating religious discrimination – dialogue: dialogue that brings people out of their corners and helps drive real reform.  Imagine that kind of dialogue taking place beyond the roundtables, in cities and towns across America.  Imagine people from different walks of life; different faiths and different backgrounds taking the time to understand each other, to hear one another out – with dignity, decency and respect.

We hope that this initiative and report can help continue to spur that kind of rich and robust dialogue.  As we discussed this morning, today doesn’t mark the end of our work on this initiative.  Fulfilling the promise of our founding ideals doesn’t happen in one month or one year.  It requires ongoing effort and impactful solutions in the always demanding, ever-evolving work of building safe, vibrant and inclusive communities around the country.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On Aug. 3 and 4, 2016, in Beijing, senior administration officials and top U.S. judges will meet with Chinese counterparts to discuss judicial reform.  This new high-level U.S.-China Judicial Dialogue: In Support of Economic Growth and Reform was announced during President Obama and President Xi’s meeting in September 2015.  The dialogue will be led by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer and Department of Commerce General Counsel Kelly Welsh for the U.S. side, and by CPC Central Leading Group for Judicial Reform Vice Chairman Jiang Wei and Supreme People’s Court Vice President Tao Kaiyuan for the Chinese side.  Both sides will include leading jurists as speakers.  The U.S. delegation includes Chief Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia and U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California. 

The goal of the U.S.-China Judicial Dialogue: In Support of Economic Growth and Reform is to support and exchange views on judicial reform, and to identify and evaluate the challenges and strategies in implementing the rule of law.  President Obama and Chinese President Xi agreed that the dialogue should lead to an improvement in the transparency and predictability of the business environment.  In this first meeting of the dialogue, the two sides will discuss case management, alternative dispute resolution, precedent, amicus briefs and evidence in civil and commercial cases. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which contains several substantive and procedural amendments to the FOIA. OIP has prepared a summary of the amendments as well as a redlined version of the statute which shows the changes made by the amendments. Today, OIP has released its first guidance piece addressing the new amendments. The guidance addresses the new requirements for agency response letters and for notices extending the FOIA's time limits due to "unusual circumstances." The guidance addresses the:

  • Requirement to notify requesters about the availability of the agency's FOIA Public Liaison to offer assistance,
  • Requirements to notify requesters of their right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at NARA, and
  • To afford the requester no less than 90 days from the date of the adverse determination on the request to file an administrative appeal.

Agencies should update their response letters and notices extending the FOIA’s time limits due to unusual circumstances to include the new requirements from the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. OIP has prepared an implementation checklist, with sample language, to assist agencies in doing so.

 

Guidance on the New Requirements for FOIA Response Letters, Including Affording Ninety Days to File an Administrative Appeal, and New Notification Requirement for Notices Extending FOIA’s Time Limits Due to Unusual Circumstances

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Friday, July 15, 2016

In January 2016, as part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to combat gun violence, President Obama directed the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DOD) to develop a research and development strategy to expedite real-world deployment of advanced gun safety technology.  In April 2016, the three agencies submitted a report to the president that outlined a multi-pronged plan to expand and encourage the development of “smart gun” technology.  Among other things, the report described a four-step process whereby DOJ and DHS would develop baseline specifications that defined, for the first time, the minimum technical requirements that law enforcement agencies expect from smart guns.  Step one of the process called for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) – DOJ’s research, development and evaluation agency – to assemble a team of firearms experts at DOJ and DHS that would prepare a draft list of baseline specifications by July 15, 2016.  NIJ has now completed this step of the process. 

Today, NIJ is issuing for public comment a draft version of these baseline specifications.  NIJ is soliciting input on the document from a broad range of stakeholders—from academics to advocates; engineers to entrepreneurs.  In addition to seeking public comment, NIJ is hosting a two-day convening of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in mid-August to review and discuss the draft specifications.  Based on this feedback, DOJ and DHS will revise the specifications as appropriate and finalize the document for publication. 

These voluntary baseline specifications are designed to provide clear guidance to private industry so that manufacturers can develop technology that meets the needs of law enforcement officers, particularly with regards to reliability, durability and accuracy.  As the April 2016 report makes clear, this process is designed to spur the development of new technology, not to mandate that any particular individual or law enforcement agency adopt the technology once it is developed.  By establishing clear technical and engineering standards, this process is designed to ensure that any smart gun technology available to law enforcement agencies is safe and reliable.  Moreover, by engaging law enforcement experts and a broad range of stakeholders throughout this process, NIJ hopes to produce a final document that both reflects the exacting demands of law enforcement officers and advances the president’s goal of expediting the real-world deployment of smart gun technology. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the new location of this training event (7/26/16).

OIP will be hosting a training session on the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 on August 8, 2016.  The training will provide agency personnel with an overview of the recent amendments to the FOIA and an opportunity to ask questions to OIP’s Director about the new provisions.  As OIP continues to work on guidance to agencies on the implementation of the specific requirements of the new law, we hope you can join us for this training to address any immediate questions or concerns. The details for this training are:

FOIA Amendments Training
Robert F. Kennedy Building - Great Hall
10th and Constitution Ave NW
August 8, 2016 - 10am to 12pm
 

This training event is open to agency FOIA professionals and interested agency personnel.

If you are interested in attending, please e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “FOIA Amendments Training.” As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  You will need a picture ID to enter the building.  If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP's Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz

Cross-posted on Huffington Post.

Attorney General Lynch and the Federal Interagency Reentry CouncilAs law enforcement agencies and community organizations team up across the country to reduce crime, expand opportunity and revitalize our neighborhoods, it is increasingly clear that a crucial part of that work is helping people returning from our prisons and jails make a successful transition back to their families and communities.  With more than 600,000 individuals leaving state and federal prisons each year and more than 11 million cycling through local jails, reentry is a process with enormous implications for communities across the United States and for all of us who care about making sure that we create opportunity for everyone who is able to contribute.  If handled the right way, reentry policy can lead to lower crime, stronger families and more prosperous communities.  If handled poorly – or if ignored altogether – a failure to ensure successful reentry can deepen the cycles of poverty, criminality and incarceration that prevent too many of our neighborhoods from reaching their full potential.

This administration has been dedicated to improving reentry outcomes since President Obama took office in 2009.  In the years since, the White House, the Department of Justice and agencies across the federal government have worked tirelessly to strengthen our reentry infrastructure in a number of ways.  For example, the president’s criminal justice reform agenda includes a number of reentry initiatives, some of which were highlighted in the department’s National Reentry Week in April.  And the Departments of Justice and Labor are funding innovative projects that support hundreds of adult and youth reentry programs across the country.

To build on these efforts, President Obama recently signed a memorandum formally establishing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which we are proud to chair together.  The president’s action officially charters an effort that started in January of 2011, when former Attorney General Eric Holder convened federal agency heads to address reentry in a more comprehensive fashion.  The distance we have come in those five-and-a-half years is remarkable.  We have opened doors to employment for returning citizens by launching the White House Fair Chance Business Pledge, an effort aimed at eliminating barriers to reentry and employment, including “ban the box” initiatives that delay questions about criminal history until an appropriate point in the hiring process.  We have expanded access to educational opportunities through programs like Second Chance Pell, which makes some federal inmates eligible for college funding.  And we are working to reduce the thousands of secondary consequences triggered by a criminal record – from trouble getting student loans to barriers to voting – restrictions that too often penalize those who have been in prison long after they have served their sentences.

Today, we held the first meeting of the newly-chartered Reentry Council, and we took even more promising steps forward.  Led by the council’s Executive Director Amy Solomon, we discussed a number of recent accomplishments, evaluated ongoing activities and discussed a promising way forward.  The White House gave an overview of the Fair Chance Business Pledge and the Higher Education Pledge, which enlists private-sector organizations and colleges and universities in providing individuals a fair chance to participate in the American economy.  The Office of Personnel Management discussed how their new proposed rule will “ban the box” for federal hires, delaying inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer is made.  The Department of Education described its Beyond the Box initiative to give justice-involved individuals access to postsecondary educational opportunities.  The Department of Health and Human Services highlighted new guidance that extends Medicaid coverage to residents of community halfway houses, which will help as many as 100,000 people.  And the Department of Justice showcased the Bureau of Prisons’ Roadmap to Reentry, a strategic blueprint for reentry planning in the federal prison system released in the spring.  The department also highlighted new rules soon to be published in the Federal Register that will give people who are incarcerated, often victims of crime and trauma themselves, access to federally-funded victim services. 

In his memorandum, President Obama wrote that “America is a nation of second chances.”  But for too many Americans involved with the justice system, those second chances never appear.  That’s a status quo we cannot afford to accept.  It is too damaging to those leaving prison; too harmful to the families and communities to which they’re returning; and too costly to the nation, which depends upon the skills and talents of all its people.  With the creation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, and the help of our dedicated partners throughout the United States, we’re beginning to change that status quo, to create more second chances and to build a brighter future for all.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Yesterday the Justice Department published updated guidance on the accessibility of polling places under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The publication, “ADA Checklist for Polling Places,” aims to help state and local government election officials, poll workers and voters better understand the basic accessibility features necessary to allow voters with mobility and vision disabilities to access their polling place.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division works vigorously to protect the right of all eligible voters to participate in our democracy.  Unfortunately, exclusions and barriers to the ballot box, including inaccessible polling places, still exist for voters with disabilities.  In 2008, GAO  reported that across the United States, only 27% of polling places were accessible to voters with disabilities during the presidential election.  The revised ADA Checklist for Polling Places provides helpful guidance to election officials so they can improve polling place accessibility and provide voters with disabilities the same opportunities as other voters to cast their ballots at polling places, alongside their neighbors and friends.

Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to ensure that people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote.  With respect to polling places, counties and cities are required to select and use polling places that are physically accessible to people with a variety of disabilities, such as those who use wheelchairs, scooters or other devices; those who have difficulty walking or using stairs; or those who are blind or have vision loss.

In 2010, the department published revised ADA regulations, including the Standards for Accessible Design.  The ADA Checklist for Polling Places incorporates these changes.  The checklist includes a discussion on polling place accessibility with a focus on those areas of a facility that may be used as a polling place on election day; a list of tools, helpful tips and temporary remedies for making polling places accessible; and a revised checklist formatted as a stand-alone survey document that may be used by election officials to assess the accessibility of their polling places.

The updated checklist is a component of the department’s efforts to secure equal voting rights for people with disabilities.  Last year, the Civil Rights Division, partnering with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the nation, launched the ADA Voting Initiative to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, including in this year’s presidential elections.  The ADA Voting Initiative covers all aspects of voting, from voter registration to casting ballots at neighborhood polling places.  U.S. Attorneys’ Offices may investigate the physical accessibility of local polling places, review state and local voting policies and procedures impacting voters with disabilities and assess whether actions taken by officials and others deny voters with disabilities the full and equal exercise of their voting rights.

The Civil Rights Division has published additional technical assistance publications about federal laws that protect the rights of voters with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act.  The publication, “The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities,” is intended to help election officials, poll workers and voters understand how the ADA and other federal laws ensure equality in the voting process for people with disabilities.  A second document, “Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems at Polling Places,” discusses physical barriers to access to voters with disabilities in five commonly found areas at polling places and offers solutions for addressing them.

To view the ADA Checklist for Polling Places, visit https://www.ada.gov/votingchecklist.htm.

To learn more about the ADA and other laws protecting the rights of voters with disabilities, visit www.ada.gov/ta-pubs-pg2.htm.  Those interested in finding out more about the ADA can call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TDD), or access the ADA website at www.ada.gov

Topic(s):
Civil Rights
Thursday, June 30, 2016

This Fourth of July marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which as President Obama declared, "is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government." In July 2015, OIP launched a pilot program with the participation of seven agency volunteers to assess the feasibility of a policy that would entail not only releasing FOIA processed records to one requester, but to the public at large by having the agency  post them online. Today, and in celebration of the FOIA’s 50th anniversary, OIP is pleased to release its report on this pilot along with its analysis and next steps.

In his 2009 FOIA Memorandum, President Obama directed agencies to take affirmative steps to make information available to the public. Likewise, the Department of Justice in its 2009 FOIA Guidelines stressed the importance of proactive disclosures and has encouraged agencies to engage in an ongoing effort to identify records of interest to the public and to post them online. The pilot sought to answer many important questions on the feasibility of a “release to one/release to all” policy, including the:

  • costs associated with such a policy,
  • effect on staff time for those who process requests,
  • effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the
  • justification for any exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy.

The agencies that participated in the pilot are the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and components or offices of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Throughout the pilot, OIP collected metrics, provided guidance, and answered questions from the participating agencies and solicited feedback from the public. All of the information collected from agencies and received from the public has been incorporated into the assessment.

Analyzing the pilot results revealed that a broad implementation of the “release to one/release to all” policy will require the active participation of a range of offices within each agency. Not only will FOIA offices need to be engaged in this process but, more significantly, the Web teams or IT offices who provide the technical assistance in preparing documents for posting will need to develop workflows and plans to accommodate the increased volume of postings that would occur as a result of implementation. Additionally, time and financial resources may need to be reallocated. Given these factors, the engagement of agency Chief FOIA Officers is critical to expanding the “release to one/release to all” policy more broadly across the government.

As a result of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Chief FOIA Officers will serve on a newly-created Chief FOIA Officers Council. The Department of Justice will present the results of its "release to one/release to all" pilot as the first item for the new Council to consider and will seek the assistance of the Council in determining the best way forward. 

Alongside these efforts, OIP will continue to engage with agencies on the implementation of this policy. OIP will also continue to ask agencies to include in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports details about their efforts regarding proactive disclosures in general and “release to one/release to all” efforts in particular. All agencies are encouraged to use the results of this pilot as a guide while the Chief FOIA Officers Council begins its work, and we encourage everyone to review OIP’s full report on this pilot.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Thursday, June 30, 2016

Yesterday, the Department of Justice submitted a written statement for the record to the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee’s Hearing on Pending Servicemembers and Veterans Legislation.  The statement supports the proposed amendments to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994 (USERRA), which aim to clarify the procedural rights of members of the uniformed services and improve the enforcement of such employment and reemployment rights.

Since 2004, when the department took on responsibility for litigating USERRA cases, the department has vigorously enforced USERRA.  In this time period, the department has filed 95 USERRA lawsuits and favorably resolved 151 USERRA complaints on behalf of the nation’s servicemembers and veterans.  Importantly, the department provides legal assistance for those servicemembers who may not be able to find or afford private attorneys to take up their cause, giving a voice to the concerns of servicemembers and veterans that might not otherwise be heard.

Proposed amendments to USERRA include:

  • allowing the Unites States to serve as plaintiff in all suits filed by the Attorney General, and not just in suits filed against state employers;
  • providing the department with pattern-or-practice authority to enforce USERRA by granting independent authority to the Attorney General to investigate and file suit to challenge a pattern-or-practice in hiring that violates USERRA;
  • explicitly revoking state sovereign immunity so that servicemembers are able to bring a USERRA action against a state employer in either state or federal court;
  • revising pension contribution calculations so that a servicemember’s pension contribution is comparable to the average contribution of similarly-situated employees;
  • adding compensatory and punitive damages so as to better compensate servicemembers for losses suffered  due to USERRA violations;
  • providing for civil investigative authority in USERRA investigations;
  • detailing disabilities discovered after a servicemember resumes work for purposes of reemployment determinations; and
  • clarifying that servicemembers are not bound by arbitration agreements that are entered into prior to their service obligations.

The department believes that these amendments to USERRA would provide us with critical enhanced enforcement capabilities and buttress current servicemember protections.

Topic(s):
Servicemembers Initiative
Thursday, June 30, 2016

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) was thrilled to participate in the United State of Women Summit on June 14, 2016. Over 5,000 people traveled to Washington, D.C., from all across the country and around the world; many thousands more attended via livestream, which you can watch on the Summit’s website. The White House Council on Women and Girls coordinated the event to both celebrate the progress that’s been made over the past seven and a half years and to galvanize action for the work that still lies ahead.

“Together we are all stronger” was a theme woven throughout the Summit, which was built on six pillars: violence against women and girls; health and wellness; economic empowerment; entrepreneurship and innovation; educational opportunity; and leadership and civic engagement.

President Obama addressed the Summit and expressed his optimism that tomorrow’s leaders will encourage a society that treats women with respect: “…So our girls see that they, too, are America -- confident and courageous and, in the words of Audre Lord, ‘deliberate and afraid of nothing.’”

During the Summit, various breakouts, referred to as “Solutions Seminars,” focused on violence against women issues. I had an opportunity to moderate one of these breakouts, entitled “From the Margins to the Center: Solutions to Stopping Violence in All Communities,” which was livestreamed nationally and can be viewed on the Watch the Summit (at 4:15:17). We had a very powerful discussion with courageous women who highlighted the increasing need for interventions addressing domestic and sexual violence to be led by and for diverse communities. Our panel discussed how this could be done through culturally based and innovative approaches that build on the strengths and resilience of their communities. The insights and activism of all the participants also demonstrated how our collective national response to gender violence can better address violence against all women and girls.

In preparation for the Summit, the White House Council on Women and Girls compiled a factsheet highlighting many significant accomplishments during the past seven and a half years, across many different federal agencies, to advance the Administration’s goal of ending violence against women and girls. This document is truly a testament to the tremendous hard work and dedication of advocates and stakeholders. And yet, as we all know, there is still so much more work to be done.

As part of the Summit, OVW, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Family Violence Prevention and Services Program (FVPSA) cohosted a performance of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) play “Sliver of a Full Moon,” which is a powerful reenactment of the historic congressional reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013.  The play also highlights the efforts of tribal advocates and leaders from across the country to restore the authority of tribal governments to prosecute non-Native abusers who assault and abuse Native women on tribal lands. The performance was presented in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

OVW, OVC, and FVPSA also cohosted a post-Summit event at George Washington University entitled “Reimagining, Reinvigorating and Moving Forward to End Sexual Assault, Domestic violence, Dating Violence and Stalking.” Leaders from national, state, tribal, and local domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking organizations facilitated discussions for more than 400 participants on promising practices, innovative approaches, and the needs of survivors in marginalized and underserved communities. Topics included improving the criminal justice response to violence against women, as well as exploring alternative pathways to safety and healing, enhancing the role of health care providers in prevention and intervention efforts, improving access to shelter and housing, economic justice, tribal sovereignty, youth and children in the civil courts, youth leadership, and technology. This event also featured a “White House Arm Chair Discussion” with both the current and former White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, and we look forward to sharing a summary report of this convening in the months ahead.

OVW also released some new reports and funding announcements in conjunction with the Summit, including the following:

  1. Twenty Years of the Violence Against Women Act: Dispatches from the Field. This report summarizes the themes from the national tour of OVW grant recipients in which OVW staff visited 50 locations in 20 states—rural, urban, suburban, and tribal – and conducted listening sessions. The report summarizes those conversations, highlighting accomplishments and the lasting influence of VAWA on communities’ ability to respond to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, as well as identifying barriers and gaps in services.

  2. Awards to Reduce Domestic Violence Homicides. OVW announced new investments of more than $3.2 million to reduce domestic violence homicides due to firearms. The awards will be used for enhanced training and technical assistance, demonstration programs, and the establishment of a National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms.

  3. Demonstration Programs to Provide Stable Housing to Victims of Domestic Violence Living with HIV/AIDS. OVW and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office on HIV-AIDS Housing announced grant awards of more than $9 million to support eight local programs across the country to provide housing assistance and supportive services to low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

  4. Additionally, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) National Girls Initiative published a report, “Unintended Consequence: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence Mandatory and Pro-Arrest Policies and Practices on Girls and Young Women.” This report was based on a roundtable that OJJDP and OVW had convened earlier this year, in conjunction with the National Girls Initiative, in which they brought together a group of advocates representing the violence against women and the juvenile justice reform for girls communities to discuss the unintended consequences of domestic violence mandatory and pro-arrest policies on girls and young women, as well as the disproportionate impact on communities of color.

As First Lady Michele Obama noted during the Summit, “the work always continues.  And by that I mean we’re never done.” But, we know that, together, we are all stronger and have the ability to make incredible and long-lasting change to bring safety and justice to all women and girls. 

Join the United State of Women and pledge to do your part so that today we can all change tomorrow. Here is the pledge:

I WILL:

Be in charge of my own body. Every powerful part.

Learn whatever I want like it's nobody's business.

Stand by my game-changing ideas.

Use my voice to stand up for my community.

Get paid the same as everyone else doing the same job.

Call out sexism when I see it.

Not be a silent bystander.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Today, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, President Obama has signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.

In our democracy, the FOIA serves as a vital tool to keep citizens informed about the operations of their government. Since its enactment in 1966, the FOIA has been amended on a number of occasions to adapt to the times and changing priorities.  The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 contains several substantive and procedural amendments to the FOIA, as well as new reporting requirements for agencies.  

In order to assist agencies in understanding all of the new changes to the FOIA, OIP has added two new resources to its website today. First, agencies and the public can find a detailed summary of all of the changes to the law on the "FOIA Resources" pages of our site. Additionally, OIP is making available a redline version of the FOIA which outlines each of the changes within the law. 

In the upcoming months, OIP will be issuing guidance to agencies on the implementation of the various new provisions of the law.  Announcements will be made on FOIA Post as new guidance is released. Agencies are encouraged to contact OIP's FOIA Counselor Service with any questions they may have on implementation of these new statutory provisions.  

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Blog post courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General William J. Baer

Many consumers received some good news yesterday when e-book retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble reached out to notify them of significant credits being added to their accounts.  The source of these credits was a payment by Apple Inc. of $400 million to reimburse e-book purchasers for the higher prices they paid for e-books during the time in which a price-fixing conspiracy between Apple and five e-book publishers was in force.  Purchasers of New York Times bestsellers are being provided a $6.93 credit for each title they bought.  Purchasers of other titles are receiving $1.57 for each e-book.  Consumers can apply these credits to future purchases.

Apple’s obligation to make these payments arose from conduct that the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division challenged in a civil antitrust lawsuit it filed in April 2012.  The Antitrust Division alleged, and ultimately proved at trial, that Apple knowingly orchestrated a price-fixing conspiracy among five large book publishers that led to substantial increases in the prices readers were required to pay for e-books.  As Judge Denise Cote of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found:

The Plaintiffs have shown through compelling evidence that Apple violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by conspiring with the Publisher Defendants to eliminate retail price competition and to raise e-book prices.  There is overwhelming evidence that the Publisher Defendants joined with each other in a horizontal price-fixing conspiracy.  Through that conspiracy, the Publisher Defendants raised the prices of many of their New Releases and NYT Bestsellers above the $9.99 price at which they had previously been sold through Amazon.  They also raised the prices of many of their backlist e-books.  The Plaintiffs have also shown that Apple was a knowing and active member of that conspiracy.  Apple not only willingly joined the conspiracy, but also forcefully facilitated it.

United States v. Apple, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 2d 638, 691 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Cote’s decision a year ago.  United States v. Apple., Inc., 791 F.3d 290 (2d Cir. 2015).

On March 7, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Apple’s petition for certiorari and made final the lower court decisions in the case.  The Supreme Court’s action triggered Apple’s obligation to pay $400 million to e-book purchasers under Apple’s July 2014 agreement to settle damages actions brought by the attorneys general of 33 states and territories and a private class of e-book purchasers.  With the $166 million previously paid by the conspiring publishers to settle claims against them, Apple’s payment brings to $566 million the amount repaid to e-book purchasers overcharged as a result of Apple’s and the publishers’ illegal conspiracy.

The final judgment entered by Judge Cote also took steps to meet the court’s goal of “ensur[ing] that the government need never again expend its resources to bring Apple into court for violations of the country’s antitrust laws.”  In her final judgment, Judge Cote appointed an external compliance monitor to work with Apple to improve its antitrust compliance and training programs.  The monitor worked with Apple for two years, overcame efforts on Apple’s part to discredit him and impede his work and, in the end, ensured that Apple implemented significantly strengthened policies, procedures and training that we hope will prevent a recurrence of the activities that led to this case.  Apple will also face further compliance and reporting obligations for the judgment’s two remaining years.

The terrific outcome achieved in this case shows how our antitrust laws work to protect consumers against antitrust conspiracies and how the Antitrust Division will pursue antitrust enforcement actions where warranted against even the most powerful companies in the world.  The Antitrust Division and 33 state attorneys general worked together to expose the unlawful conduct, negotiate consent decrees with the book publishers, establish Apple’s liability at trial and defend that result on appeal.  The states and private plaintiffs used those outcomes to secure damages for the many consumers injured by the conspiracy.

Topic(s):
Antitrust, Consumer Protection
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Associate Director Maria Town of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House

Seventeen years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities was a form of unlawful discrimination.  This decision paved the way for many people with disabilities to live in their community rather than in institutions.

The Olmstead story started when the original plaintiffs, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, were in a state psychiatric hospital in Georgia.  They filed suit in 1995 seeking disability services in the community.  Since the landmark decision in 1999, Lois has gone from living in a psychiatric institution to living in her own home and having a successful career as an artist.

For the last eight years, the Obama Administration has led vigorous Olmstead enforcement efforts that have breathed new meaning and real life into the Supreme Court’s community integration ruling so that individuals with disabilities can experience success and self-determination, like Lois Curtis has. Since 2009, we’ve taken action and filed briefs in 50 Olmstead integration matters in 25 states. Because of the Department of Justice’s Olmstead enforcement work, today more than 53,000 people with disabilities will have meaningful opportunities to receive services in integrated, community-based settings.

The Administration’s Olmstead community integration efforts span an array of areas. Throughout our work, we see close connections between barriers to education and limited opportunities in employment.  We see how service systems that unnecessarily rely on segregated settings, like nursing facilities and sheltered workshops, to provide services to people with disabilities produce greater isolation instead of better outcomes.  We see that unnecessary segregation severely diminishes one’s options in life and interferes with the full range of activities that shape our daily lives. 

The Administration’s Olmstead efforts make one thing abundantly clear: work produces far more than a paycheck.  Work can empower our economic self-sufficiency, our independence, our personal growth and our self-esteem.  Through its Olmstead investigations, the Department of Justice met people with disabilities stuck in sheltered workshops but capable of, and wanting to, work in their own communities – individuals like Zavier and Gabrielle.  Zavier used to earn $1.70 per hour assembling small parts.  Today, as a result of a settlement agreement in Oregon and with employment support, Zavier works at a local YMCA, helping kids complete their homework and resolve their conflicts.  Gabrielle used to assemble nut-and-bolt kits and knee pads in a sheltered workshop for $100 to $150 per month.  Instead, she now works as a grooming assistant at a dog day care and boutique, earning more than $9 per hour, and she recently purchased her own house.

The success stories of Zavier and Gabrielle highlight how when we break down barriers of discrimination, we empower people.  We create stronger, more inclusive communities.  We enable men and women to reach their potential and to realize their dreams.  And taken collectively, these stories and the Administration’s Olmstead enforcement and community integration efforts show that protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities creates tangible benefits for all of us.  It strengthens our communities, our economy and our society writ large.

Topic(s):
Civil Rights
Monday, June 20, 2016

Blog post courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Criminal Division

Congress is currently considering proposed amendments to Rule 41, which are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1, 2016.

This marks the end of a three-year deliberation process, which included extensive written comments and public testimony.  After hearing the public’s views, the federal judiciary’s Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which includes federal and state judges, law professors, attorneys in private practice and others in the legal community, rejected criticisms of the proposal as misinformed and approved the amendments.  The amendments were then considered and unanimously approved by the Standing Committee on Rules and the Judicial Conference, and adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The amendments do not change any of the traditional protections and procedures under the Fourth Amendment, such as the requirement that the government establish probable cause.  Rather, the amendments would merely ensure that at least one court is available to consider whether a particular warrant application comports with the Fourth Amendment.

The amendments would not authorize the government to undertake any search or seizure or use any remote search technique, whether inside or outside the United States, that is not already permitted under current law.  The use of remote searches is not new and warrants for remote searches are currently issued under Rule 41.  In addition, most courts already permit the search of multiple computers pursuant to a single warrant so long as necessary legal requirements are met.

The amendments would apply in two narrow circumstances:

First, where a suspect has hidden the location of his or her computer using technological means, the changes to Rule 41 would ensure that federal agents know which judge to go to in order to apply for a warrant.  For example, if agents are investigating criminals who are sexually exploiting children and uploading videos of that exploitation for others to see—but concealing their locations through anonymizing technology—agents will be able to apply for a search warrant to discover where they are located.  A recent investigation that utilized this type of search warrant identified dozens of children who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the offenders.  While some federal courts hearing cases arising from this investigation have upheld the warrant as lawful, others have ordered the suppression of evidence based solely on the lack of clear venue in the current version of the rule.

And second, where the crime involves criminals hacking computers located in five or more different judicial districts, the changes to Rule 41 would ensure that federal agents may identify one judge to review an application for a search warrant rather than be required to submit separate warrant applications in each district—up to 94—where a computer is affected.  For example, agents may seek a search warrant to assist in the investigation of a ransomware scheme facilitated by a botnet that enables criminals abroad to extort thousands of Americans.  Absent the amendments, the requirement to obtain up to 94 simultaneous search warrants may prevent investigators from taking needed action to liberate computers infected with malware.  This change would not permit indiscriminate surveillance of thousands of victim computers—that is against the law now and it would continue to be prohibited if the amendment goes into effect.

These changes would ensure a court-supervised framework through which law enforcement can successfully investigate and prosecute these instances of cybercrime.

Posted in:
Topic(s):
Cyber Crime
Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Today, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) joins communities across the world to commemorate the 10th anniversary of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). WEAAD 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.

OVW remains committed to raising awareness about abuse in later life.  For example, in March 2016, OVW,  the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration on Community Living and Family Violence Prevention and Services, and the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), convened a roundtable with national, state and local leaders and older survivors to discuss the emergency shelter and transitional housing needs of older victims. This roundtable was part of a continued effort to address abuse across the lifespan and provided critical information that was used in a newly developed toolkit.

Today, I am excited to share that the first resource in this toolkit is now available. “Working with Older Survivors of Abuse: A Framework for Advocates” was developed by NCALL, an OVW technical assistance provider, to help advocates working with older survivors. We invite you and your colleagues to view a recording of the webinar “Promoting Respect and Dignity Across the Lifespan: Working with Older Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence.” This webinar highlights national and local efforts to address abuse in later life and includes an overview of the new resource, including seven guiding principles and practical strategies for advocates to consider when working with older survivors.

Chart of America’s Population Aged 65 and over from 1900 to 2050

Source: http://www.ncea.acl.gov/Library/Data/index.aspx#population

 

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 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 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

 

For More Information on Elder Abuse

 

For More Information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Administration for Community Living

#WEAAD2016

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation visit, U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice WebsiteNCEA’s State Resources webpage or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). 

Since 2006, 86 communities have received funding through OVW’s Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program. The funds have been used to train thousands of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, and other professionals who work with older victims.   

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Blog post courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Baer

Today, at the invitation of Dr. Finley, the Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), I had the honor of visiting the Flathead Indian Reservation with other federal officials, including U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter and other U.S. Attorneys who comprise the Attorney General's Advisory Subcommittee on Native American Issues.

As the group that advises the Attorney General on Native American issues, we discussed ways to strengthen the government-to-government relationship and recognized the positive impact that we have been making together.

Occasions like this provide a unique opportunity for our many tribal, federal and state partners to reflect upon and find inspiration from our shared values and common purpose in support of tribal communities.  Under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Cotter, attendance at this annual event has expanded to include tribal liaisons, whose work is so appreciated, but often overlooked, in U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country.  This is why I wanted to visit – to show the department and the Attorney General’s strong support and continued commitment to improving public safety in Indian Country.
 

The CSKT are but one of 567 federally recognized tribes with whom the United States shares a government-to-government relationship and a special trust responsibility.  The CSKT have made significant progress on a number of fronts, including an astounding stewardship of wildlife and natural resources, a tribal college we visited today with a remarkably diversity of students and degree programs, and an innovative approach to law enforcement that both strengthens and rehabilitates community.  This is a great example of how the department is working alongside tribes across the country to foster approaches that make communities safer and healthier.

Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Public Safety in Indian Country

 

Indeed, with our partners across the nation, we have made considerable progress over the last seven years since the Obama Administration made Indian Country issues a top priority.  The department created a Tribal Nations Leadership Council to improve dialogue with tribal governments on issues critical to Indian Country, and we adopted a statement of principles that affirms our determination to help tribes fight crime.

On March 7, 2015, tribes gained the ability to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over certain defendants, regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status, who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian Country.  As a result of tribes’ exercise of this special jurisdiction, more than 200 defendants have been charged under the Violence Against Women Act’s enhanced federal assault statutes, leading to over 160 convictions.  This total includes more than 60 cases involving charges of strangulation or suffocation, which are often precursor offenses to domestic homicide. 

Last summer, the department launched the initial phase of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) to provide federally-recognized tribes with access to national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes.  TAP will allow tribes to more effectively serve and protect their communities by ensuring the exchange of critical data.  In this phase of the program, a limited number of tribes are helping us work out the kinks and ready the program for an expanded rollout that will address the needs of a larger group of tribes through grants.

The department has also had an active presence recently in protecting Native American and Alaska Native voters through participation in litigation, through election monitoring around the country, through enforcement of the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act and through proposing and supporting legislation to protect voters.  On May 21, 2015, after formal consultation with tribes, the department 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.  

While the department is proud of the progress we have made working with our tribal partners, we understand that there is more we can do together. 

This is precisely why I believe it is so important to highlight the efforts of tribal partners, like the Salish and Kootenai, whose commitment to reducing recidivism and promoting community safety is a holistic model of best practices for others.  

With the help of a $600,000 Second Chance Act grant from the department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Salish and Kootenai started a model reentry program, which is the first of its kind in the state and is exemplary of what is possible through collaborative partnerships between tribal, federal and state agencies, culturally-appropriate problem solving and a community that is invested in addressing underlying root causes and focusing on positive outcomes and alternatives.

The department has spent this spring highlighting our efforts to improve reentry and this includes work that is being done with tribal communities:

  • a historic memorandum of understanding between federal, tribal and two state agencies in North and South Dakota to collectively provide community-based, culturally specific reentry services to the Standing Rock Reservation;
  • a BJA partnership with the Executive Office for U.S. Attorney’s National Indian Country Coordinator to host three regional Intergovernmental Reentry Workshops to provide tribes interested in developing reentry initiatives with guidance based on evidence-based practices; an opportunity to learn from tribes with effective programs; and an opportunity to work with state and federal counterparts;
  • working with states to encourage successful re-entry by facilitating the process in which individuals obtain government-issued identification, which can be critical to accessing benefits, securing housing, employment, school registration and opening bank accounts; and
  • working with tribes that are exploring ways to ensure that members who are reentering have the identification they need to lead productive lives.

While we are proud of the department’s and the administration’s efforts to engage and empower tribal communities, we appreciate that our work is never done.  Later this week, the Attorney General will travel to Alaska to deepen the department’s commitment to Alaska Native issues.  Attorney General Lynch will meet with tribal leaders to discuss the unique law enforcement and public safety challenges facing Alaska Native communities and she will engage with and hear directly from young people in the communities.

Topic(s):
Indian Country Law and Justice
Thursday, June 2, 2016

Organizations around the country continue to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the FOIA. This week, Director Melanie Ann Pustay will provide a keynote address on Friday, June 3rd at the Columbia Journalism School’s “FOIA @ 50” celebration, and we invite you to watch her remarks through a live stream made available by the University.

Signed into law on July 4, 1966 by President Johnson, the FOIA continues to be “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” The Columbia Journalism School’s “FOIA @ 50” celebration is a multi-day event with presentations and panels focused on the statute’s first fifty years, observations from representatives of the public and civil society, and trends for the future.

Director Pustay will provide an address at 1pm on Friday the 3rd focused on the FOIA’s first fifty years, including a viewing of the Department of Justice’s 50th anniversary video released during Sunshine Week 2016, and the steps OIP has taken during this administration to:

  • Improve the engagement between requesters and agencies,
  • Improve internal agency processes, and
  • Promote greater agency accountability.

You can watch this address live at bitly.com/cjslive.

For more information, including the full program and biographies of noted speakers, please visit the Columbia Journalism School’s site for this event. We’d like to thank the event organizers for inviting Director Pustay to participate in this special celebration.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Thursday, June 2, 2016

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Baer

Today I had the privilege of meeting with prosecutors from the Department of Justice, agents from the FBI and IRS, and enforcers from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Office of Inspector General, the Federal Reserve, the state of New York and the United Kingdom, all of whom are committed to ensuring the integrity of financial markets.  The meeting, hosted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office, provided a forum for this dedicated group of public servants to talk about how we can continue to work together to achieve our shared goal.

Customers and businesses around the world rely on financial institutions to deal with them fairly, act as honest brokers and be good stewards of their investments.  When these institutions don’t live up to those legitimate expectations—when they are reckless or engage in theft, fraud or collusion—recent painful experience shows the damage they can cause to individual consumers and our entire economy.  The department, along with other enforcers in the United States and elsewhere, takes seriously our responsibility to hold institutions and their executives accountable for bad behavior and to deter such conduct from happening again.

Cooperation and collaboration are vital to our success.  When we work together with our law enforcement partners, we are better able to tackle complicated and problematic behaviors, minimize duplication and accelerate favorable outcomes, and enhance and strengthen the impact of each agency’s efforts.  Close coordination benefits the subjects of the investigation, too, by minimizing repetitive requests for information and conflicting demands.

We discussed recent examples of successful joint efforts.  There are many.  Over the past several years, the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group brought together the department, including U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and other federal and state enforcers, to investigate fraud and misconduct in the sales of RMBS in the lead up to the financial crisis—securities that resulted in billions of dollars of losses for investors along with sweeping harm to homeowners and the broader economy.  Thus far, these efforts have resulted in over $42 billion in penalties, compensation and other relief, including billions of dollars paid or credited back to struggling homeowners. 

The department has also worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and attorneys general from 49 states and the District of Columbia in reaching unprecedented settlements with the nation’s largest mortgage servicers for “robo-signing” and other abusive mortgage servicing practices.  These include the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement, a landmark $25 billion settlement with the five largest mortgage servicers; a 2014 settlement with SunTrust for $968 million; and, in February of this year, a $470 million settlement with HSBC.  All of these settlements required the financial institutions to provide various forms of consumer relief and implement new standards for servicing mortgage loans and handling foreclosures, and for ensuring the accuracy of information provided in federal bankruptcy court.  The banks’ compliance obligations are overseen by an independent monitor and a joint federal-state monitoring committee.

Our cooperation is not limited to agencies in the United States.  Over the past few years, officials at the department coordinated with more than a dozen agencies, including those in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, to expose corruption in the foreign currency exchange market.  In 2015, the department announced parent-level guilty pleas from four major international banks in connection with the Antitrust and Criminal Division’s joint investigation into collusion and fraud in foreign exchange markets.  Those plea agreements included more than $2.5 billion in criminal fines and penalties.  In addition to the guilty pleas, UBS breached the terms of an earlier deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to plead guilty to a one-count felony charge of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a critical benchmark rate for countless business dealings, and pay a criminal penalty of $203 million.  Our colleagues at the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority collected $1.9 billion in penalties from these same banks and HSBC, and the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority collected $145 million in penalties from UBS.   

Our collaborative efforts included holding individuals accountable for financial wrong-doing.  Earlier this year a joint Criminal Division and Antitrust Division trial team convicted two traders who manipulated LIBOR.  These convictions are just one of the many successes that arose out of a diligent and wide-ranging collaboration among various enforcement agencies from the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office.  More than 20 individuals have been charged by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office for their roles in engaging in benchmark rate manipulation.

Our actions were successful because each agency appreciated the role other enforcers needed to play, regularly talked with each other and continually worked toward prompt and favorable outcomes. 

We have made great progress in combatting fraud in our financial markets and today’s meeting represents another building block in our cooperative efforts.  I know there is more work to be done, and I’m confident that these talented enforcers will continue working together to ensure the integrity of financial markets—to insist that these markets work for the benefit of all investors.  Our work is far from done.  I fully expect that the Department of Justice and our enforcement partners will continue to take action on these issues in the weeks and months to come.

Topic(s):
Financial Fraud
Thursday, June 2, 2016

Courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

A spate of child abductions in the late seventies and early eighties—such as those of Etan Patz, Adam Walsh and the 29 children, teens, and young adults murdered in and around Atlanta— spurred Congress to pass the Missing Children Act in 1982.  The following year, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Missing Children’s Day on May 25, and it has been observed on that date every year since.

Last Wednesday, I joined Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Beth McGarry—and other distinguished speakers, law enforcement officials and child advocates—at the Department of Justice’s annual Missing Children’s Day ceremony.  We remembered missing and exploited children and honored law enforcement personnel and private citizens who helped recover and protect them from exploitation, among them a team of investigators who uncovered an international scheme to place children in the care of sexual predators.  The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) coordinated the ceremony.

Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Our commitment to preventing the victimization of children is one we take seriously, every day of the year.  The OJJDP-supported National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers critical intervention and prevention services for missing and sexually exploited children.  In 2015 alone, the center assisted families and law enforcement with more than 13,700 cases of missing children. OJJDP provided NCMEC $31 million in fiscal year 2015.

NCMEC also manages the day-to-day operations of the national AMBER Alert program.  An AMBER Alert is issued when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger.  Just nine days before this year’s National Missing Children’s Day commemoration, an urgent AMBER Alert bulletin notified the city of Detroit that a three-month-old baby girl was missing.  Within hours, she was safely recovered.  Her recovery is just one of many success stories from the OJJDP-administered program, which is credited with successfully recovering 822 missing children since 1996.

Although we are helping to recover more and more missing and abducted children, threats such as child sex trafficking and Internet predators persist.  Another element of the Department of Justice’s longstanding commitment to protecting children is OJJDP’s work with the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces.  As a coordinated nationwide network of 61 task forces, ICAC’s investigative and forensic work has resulted in the arrests of more than 8,500 individuals and trained upwards of 47,000 professionals working in the field.  In 2015, for the third consecutive year, ICAC task forces conducted Operation Broken Heart, an intensive, two-month nationwide operation to identify and arrest child sexual predators. Last year’s operation resulted in the arrests of 1,140 child predators across 41 states.

In April, Attorney General Lynch landed yet another blow to child exploitation by releasing the 2016 National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.  The National Strategy assesses the scope of the problem; details efforts to address child exploitation; presents future policy initiatives; and, for the first time, focuses on the distinct challenges of confronting child exploitation in Indian country.

We are also supporting activities aimed at helping children caught in commercial child sex trafficking, treating them as the victims that they are and affording them safe harbor in facilities designed for their unique needs.  Our data show that girls and young women are disproportionately victims of commercial sexual exploitation and comprise the majority of youth arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice.  Last October, we took another major step to assist system-involved girls and young women by releasing our Policy Guidance on Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.  We built upon that progress in January when we announced our Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking Initiative.

As the Attorney General said at this year’s National Missing Children’s Day ceremony, “Our nation has no more solemn obligation and no greater responsibility than the protection of our children.”  Join us as we honor our missing children and work to bring them home.  Sign up to receive AMBER Alerts and log on to OJJDP.gov to access resources to assist recovery efforts and combat child exploitation.

Friday, May 27, 2016

FOIA websites provide a wealth of information to the public on how the FOIA works, including how to make a request for records and how to locate information that is already publicly available. To further improve these websites and promote consistency, we would like to invite you to join us on June 16th for a requester roundtable discussion on agency FOIA websites.

As part of the United States' Third Open Government National Action Plan, the Administration committed to "issuing guidance and creating best practices for agency web pages, including developing a template for key elements to encourage all agencies to update their FOIA websites to be consistent, informative, and user-friendly." Kicking-off this effort, OIP, in conjunction with the Office of Government Information Services, is hosting this requester roundtable to discuss best practices seen for agency FOIA websites.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on what agency FOIA websites should look like and any features or formats that you have seen that have been particularly helpful.  The details for the meeting are:

FOIA Requester Roundtable Meeting
Agency FOIA websites
Department of Justice – Office of Information Policy
1425 New York Avenue, NW – Suite 11050
June 16, 2016, 12:30 – 1:30 pm

You will need a picture ID to enter the building.

This meeting is open to the public as well as to all interested agency personnel.  We hope that you can join us for this discussion.

If you are interested in attending, please e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “June Requester Roundtable.”  As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP's Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

When the Department of Justice launched the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, one of our primary objectives was to expand our efforts to ensure that more servicemembers receive the protections they are entitled to under federal law.

One example of this work is the ongoing litigation involving Jonathan R. Clark, a Sergeant in the Virginia State Police (VSP) and a Senior Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.  From 2008 through 2011, Capt. Clark served in Operation Enduring Freedom.  In 2015, Cpt. Clark filed a complaint alleging that the VSP had violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by engaging in a pattern or practice of harassment and discrimination against him related to his military service.  Clark alleged that because of his service, VSP members made derogatory statements about his military commitments, filed baseless charges of misconduct against him and denied him several opportunities for promotion.  In response, VSP filed a special plea of sovereign immunity, arguing that because Clark was a state employee trying to sue the commonwealth of Virginia in a state court, his USERRA claims were barred by the 11th Amendment.  The state court sustained that plea and entered a final order dismissing the action without written opinion on Sept. 9, 2015.  Clark then appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

To help protect Capt. Clark’s interests, last week the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief, drafted by Elizabeth Hecker in the Civil Rights Division’s Appellate Section, in the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The department’s brief, available here, argues that USERRA’s jurisdictional provision subjects all states to private suit in their own courts, regardless of whether a state has consented to suit.  The brief also argues that Congress has this authority under the War Powers clauses of the Constitution, which give Congress the power to declare war, raise and support an army and navy, and regulate the land and naval forces.  Consequently, the state court made a mistake when it sustained VSP’s amended special plea of sovereign immunity and dismissed Clark’s complaint.

The United States has filed similar briefs in the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal and the New Mexico Supreme Court arguing that Congress has authority under its War Powers to authorize private individuals to bring USERRA claims against state employers.

The department will continue to advocate for U.S. servicemembers in this context because providing servicemembers who are employed by states with a cause of action to enforce their USERRA rights is not only important to the country’s “ability to provide for a strong national defense,” but it falls into the core mission of the department’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative to build upon and expand our work to protect the men and women who volunteer to serve our country. 

Topic(s):
Servicemembers Initiative
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General John Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division

The Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) began 2016 by vigorously promoting cooperative federalism through work with our state partners to enforce our nation’s pollution laws and prosecute wildlife traffickers.  We also met with numerous state officials in the environmental enforcement arena to exchange views and share expertise in a variety of areas.

Recently I had the honor of being the first ENRD Assistant Attorney General invited to speak to the annual meeting of the Environmental Council of the States, the national association of state and territorial environmental agency leaders.  I joined colleagues from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), New Mexico and academia to discuss innovative ways to measure the success of environmental enforcement.  In addition, other key members of the division partnered with the National Association of Attorneys General to present webinars on topics of mutual interest, such as e-discovery and share expertise regarding federal bankruptcy law in the context of environmental cases.

A key example of our fruitful work with state leadership is the record-breaking settlement with BP in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill litigation.  On April 4, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana entered the final consent decree in the litigation, thereby resolving civil claims of the United States and the five Gulf Coast states against BP.  The claims arose from the 2010 blowout of the Macondo well and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Under the consent decree, BP will pay the U.S. and the five Gulf States more than $20 billion, including: First, a $5.5 billion civil penalty; second, more than $8.1 billion in natural resource damages; third, $600 million in further reimbursement of clean-up costs and some royalty payments; and finally, up to $6 billion in economic damage payments for the Gulf States or their local units of government.  This resolution is the largest settlement with a single entity in Department of Justice history; it includes the largest civil penalty ever awarded under the Clean Water Act, the largest ever natural resources damages settlement and massive economic damages payments to our state partners.

We have had many other significant state-federal enforcement actions this year and the following are highlights of cooperative federalism in action.

In the most recent federal-state coordinated enforcement efforts against oil spills in and around the Gulf of Mexico, ORB Exploration LLC (ORB) agreed to pay civil penalties and state response costs and to implement corrective measures to resolve alleged violations of  federal and state environmental laws stemming from three crude oil spills that occurred in 2013 and 2015 from two of ORB’s Louisiana facilities in the Atchafalaya River Basin, as well as violations of Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure regulations at its Frog Lake oil storage barge.  Under a proposed consent decree lodged on Earth Day in federal court, ORB will pay $615,000 in federal civil penalties for the spills and other environmental violations, pay $100,000 to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for civil penalties and response costs and take measures to improve spill response preparedness and prevent future oil spills.

ENRD also recently partnered with Utah to negotiate an agreement with Salt Lake County to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations associated with the county’s stormwater management program.  The agreement, if approved by the court after a public comment period, would require the county to take specific measures to reduce illegal stormwater and non-stormwater discharges to Jordan River Valley surface waters by thoroughly implementing the requirements of its municipal separate storm sewer system permit.  The county also will pay a civil penalty of $280,000 to be split evenly between the United States and the state.

In addition, ENRD joined with Tennessee to negotiate an agreement with OXY USA Inc. (OXY), a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, to clean up contaminated water and sediments in the Ocoee River and one of its watersheds at the Copper Basin Mining District in Polk County, Tennessee.  The settlement, once approved by the court, will require the company to spend an estimated $40 million to maintain and operate a water treatment system, prevent access by the public to contaminated water and monitor contamination in the Ocoee River.  OXY also will reimburse both EPA and Tennessee for costs incurred in overseeing the work required by the settlement.  This settlement, combined with work previously performed at the site, directs over $217 million toward cleaning up the contamination at this site.

ENRD and the state of West Virginia also took a joint enforcement action under federal and state law against Justice Companies Inc., to address unlawful discharges resulting from the construction of 20 dams in West Virginia trout streams.  In February, the court entered a consent decree and stipulated judgment to resolve the federal and state claims.  Under the consent decree and stipulated judgment, the defendants will remove the dams, restore the streams, provide compensatory mitigation, and pay a civil penalty of $345,000, to be shared evenly by the state and federal governments.

These cases exemplify cooperative federalism in environmental enforcement, a top priority for ENRD.  We place a high value on these partnerships with state and local governments as they are crucial to fulfilling ENRD’s mission on behalf of the American people.

ENRD is also continuing our cooperative relationship with states in criminal prosecutions this year.  To that end, prosecutors from ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section have provided training to state partners by sharing their criminal enforcement experience, as well as discussing the division’s new Worker Safety Program.

These state connections allowed us to criminally prosecute eight individuals for wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, which led to the conviction of five defendants on felony charges.  The cases arose from a covert investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation and known as “Operation Roadhouse.”  This joint effort also enabled the state to issue citations to over a hundred individuals for violations of state law.

I look forward to continuing and enhancing ENRD’s partnerships with our state and local government counterparts to advance our shared goals on behalf of the American people.

Topic(s):
Environment
Friday, May 13, 2016

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon

By the time Landon – a high school student in Massachusetts – entered his freshman year, he had already been in and out of the hospital for multiple suicide attempts.  He had been pulled out of school because he wasn’t able to get through the day and he needed medication to sleep.

Today, Landon is back in school – a vocational school he transferred to as a sophomore, after coming out to friends and family as a transgender boy – and things have gotten a little easier for him.  Landon’s new school is committed to treating every student with dignity and respect, and together they have found ways to allow Landon to survive and thrive in his new surroundings.  But getting there has taken time and the path hasn’t always been clear.

In recent months, we’ve heard from a growing chorus of educators, parents and students around the country about the need for guidance on how schools can successfully support transgender students and non-transgender students in compliance with federal civil rights laws.  In fact, just this week, the National Association of Secondary School Principals called for the Department of Education to release guidance and best practices on creating an inclusive and respectful environment.  Schools want to do right by all of their students and have looked to us to provide clarity on steps they can take to ensure that every student is comfortable at their school, is in an environment free of discrimination and has an opportunity to thrive.

Today, in response to those requests, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released joint guidance to schools explaining how federal law prohibiting sex discrimination affects schools’ obligations toward transgender students.  The Department of Education also released a compilation of examples of ways that schools across the country are already successfully supporting transgender students.

The resources we released today give schools like Landon’s the guidance they’ve been asking for to navigate issues they may be confronting for the first time.  The departments’ legal guidance identifies the key requirements that schools need to keep in mind to comply with Title IX and other federal laws.  The companion document offers real-life examples of how schools are making sure transgender and all students have a safe and respectful learning environment.  Both documents show that protecting transgender students’ right to be who they are does not harm other students; instead, they show that equality for transgender students is not only required by law but achievable through common-sense approaches that foster safety and a positive learning environment for all students.

The documents address common questions – like how to handle educational records of transgender students and how to address harassment of transgender students.  They also highlight sensible ways that schools around the country have been able to address concerns from other students and parents without infringing upon transgender students’ civil rights.  The guidance does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces, when, for example, there are other appropriate options available; and schools can also take steps to increase privacy within shared facilities.  And it reiterates that Title IX does not prohibit medically- and scientifically-sound requirements to ensure physical safety and competitive fairness in school sports.

Taken together, we hope these new resources provide clarity for everyone – from state and local leaders to educators to students and families – about how to create a safe, welcoming and supportive learning environment for every student.

Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students

Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students

Topic(s):
Civil Rights

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