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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez Testifies Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution


Washington, DC
United States

Chairman Franks, Ranking Member Nadler, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the critical civil rights work of the Department of Justice.

In the year since I last appeared before this Subcommittee, the Civil Rights Division has continued our vigorous, fair and independent enforcement of civil rights laws. It is fitting that I come before you today, on the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark law that represents a bipartisan tradition of evenhanded civil rights enforcement.

I want to thank the former Chairman of this distinguished Committee, Congressman Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, for his and his wife’s unwavering commitment to disability rights. I also commend him for his leadership in the most recent reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights indeed has a strong bipartisan history in this Committee and across America.

Thanks to the talented career attorneys, professionals, and support staff who work in the Division, we continue to achieve great successes in protecting the civil rights of all individuals. Let me give some examples of this work.

Two days ago, in New Orleans, the Attorney General announced the filing of a complaint and consent decree in the most sweeping police reform case in the Department’s history. The decree serves as a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform. And we are handling more cases of this nature than anytime in our history.

In the last fiscal year the Division filed hate-crime charges that resulted in the convictions of 39 defendants, the largest annual number in more than a decade. In the last four fiscal years, we brought more human trafficking cases than any other four-year period in the Department’s history, and this fiscal year has not yet ended.

In the last four fiscal years, our Appellate Section has filed more amicus briefs than any other four year period that I am aware of.

We handled 27 new voting cases last fiscal year, the highest number of new cases in 18 years. With 36 new cases so far in Fiscal Year 2012 we have already surpassed that record. Our voting rights docket as busy than ever.

In the last three years we participated in over 40 matters across 25 states to provide individuals with disabilities with the full range of community-based services afforded by the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. Our recent agreement with Virginia will provide relief to over 4,000 individuals seeking community services.

We achieved the Department’s largest recovery in a sexual harassment suit under the Fair Housing Act, in which three New York City landlords will pay 2 million dollars to their sexual harassment victims.

In the past eight months, the Division has resolved the three largest residential lending discrimination cases in the Department’s history, including a $335 million settlement with Countrywide Financial Corporation, a $175 million settlement with Wells Fargo, and a $21 million settlement with SunTrust Mortgage.

We reached an agreement with Colorado to provide interpretive services in court proceedings for individuals with limited English proficiency so they can meaningfully access the justice system.

We have provided equal educational opportunities to all students by seeking to dismantle racial segregation in nearly 200 school desegregation cases nationwide.

We have protected the right of individuals to worship and assemble in accordance with their religious beliefs. Last week we obtained a court order under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, directing Rutherford County, Tennessee to allow a mosque in the city of Murfreesboro to open.

We aggressively enforce laws that protect the rights of servicemembers. Since 2009, we filed 43 cases under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, exceeding the 32 cases filed under the previous administration. And we obtained record relief under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act for servicemembers who have been victims of unlawful foreclosures.

We protected the voting rights of servicemembers through enforcement of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009. This year we sued four states—Alabama, California, Wisconsin, and Georgia—for noncompliance with the MOVE Act during their primary and runoff elections. And we have developed legislative proposals to strengthen these protections.

I am proud of these accomplishments, which represent only a small fraction of our work. These cases are all about real people in communities across the country who have been denied access to equal opportunity. These cases are about the students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, the state’s largest district. One of the basic rights that every parent and student should have is the right to be safe in schools and to have a safe, nurturing learning environment. As a result of our landmark agreement, students who had been subjected to sex-based harassment can now feel safe and focus their energies on learning.

Our work is about empowering people with developmental disabilities or mental health challenges in Georgia to live and thrive in the community. I will never forget the person with a disability who had been unnecessarily warehoused in an institution for years and told us: “thank you for giving me my life back.”

When a worker told her boss that it was wrong to deny jobs to US citizens and workers with permanent work authorizations and give jobs instead to students with temporary work visas, our Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Employment-Related Immigration Practices stepped in. The employer agreed to backpay and monitoring.

In some cases, we expand opportunity for a few people, while in others, it may hundreds of thousands, or even more. In all cases, we enforce the law fairly, independently and even handedly. This job is a sacred trust, and I am extremely proud of the work of the dedicated career professionals in the Division. We have made great strides in expanding opportunity in a number of critical ways. Civil rights, however, remains the nation’s unfinished business and we will continue to use all of the tools in our arsenal so that all individuals enjoy the rights guaranteed by our Constitution and federal laws.

Thank you for this opportunity to tell you about the work of the Division. I look forward to answering your questions.

Updated September 17, 2014