Thank you, Jocelyn [Samuels], for that kind introduction – and for your outstanding leadership of the Civil Rights Division. It’s a privilege to be with you this afternoon. And it’s a pleasure to join so many friends, colleagues, proud family members, and distinguished guests in honoring this year’s Civil Rights Division award recipients – and thanking them for going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the rights to which every individual must always be entitled.
These dedicated attorneys, investigators, paralegals, and support staff members form the backbone of our nation’s finest civil rights litigation team and enforcement agency. Over the past year, all of you have made indelible contributions – and enabled us to take significant steps forward – in our efforts to realize the promise of equality, opportunity, and justice for everyone in this country. Together, you and your colleagues have ensured that – despite evolving challenges, unprecedented budgetary difficulties, and even personal hardships imposed by the recent government shutdown – this Division’s work has never been stronger.
Particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s flawed decision, earlier this year, to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, your steadfast commitment to the aggressive enforcement of all federal voting protections has signaled our determination to use every tool available to us in the fight for enfranchisement and against discrimination. Under the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, you’re strengthening our ability to hold accountable those who perpetrate hate crimes – and to ensure that the victims of these heinous attacks receive the justice that they deserve. Across this country and around the world, you and your partners are striving to combat human trafficking and sex trafficking of minors. And these efforts have increased the number of prosecutions for these offenses by roughly a third in recent years. In addition, the Division continues to guarantee that limited English proficient individuals have meaningful access to courtrooms and court proceedings through qualified interpreters and translated forms and documents. And the Appellate Section has played a critical role in successfully defending the Division’s positions in the courts of appeals and U.S. Supreme Court, achieving major victories in a wide range of areas – including education, disability rights, and hate crimes prosecutions.
Some of you even helped to make history this past summer – when, after more than two years of work with your colleagues in the Civil Division, the Solicitor General’s Office, and other components – you helped secure a landmark victory in the cause of equal protection in the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor.
And all of you have repeatedly shown that – across this great country, wherever members of the American public suffer bias, feel the impact of discrimination, or encounter individuals or institutions that seek to deny them equal opportunities – to vote, to attend school, to gain employment, to worship as they choose, or to avail themselves of their fundamental rights – exemplary public servants like the awardees before me are leading this Division’s efforts to fight back.
Your work is having a tremendous impact in the lives of millions – from our workplaces and military bases, to our housing and lending markets, to our voting booths, border areas, schools, and homes. And your efforts are enabling us to build a brighter future in which every person can pursue his or her dreams – unencumbered by prejudice, bias, or hate.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of all that you’ve done, and achieved, to earn these prestigious Civil Division Awards – along with the Attorney General’s Awards that were previously bestowed, and whose recipients are with us today. As is no surprise, the Civil Rights Division was well-represented in the Attorney General Awards that were announced earlier this month. We are all proud of the Division employees who received those awards for their exceptional work as members of the Defense of Marriage Act litigation team, the Wells Fargo fair lending team, and the New Orleans Police Department consent decree team. Individuals are also being recognized for their work on the United States v. Cates prosecution, and for Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee in the field of fair housing enforcement.
I know that the past year has brought significant adversity and demanded personal sacrifices. And I want you to know that I will always be grateful for your determination to keep fighting – through these and other obstacles – to attain the progress we seek and secure the results that everyone in this country deserves.
I congratulate each of you, once again, on these well-deserved recognitions. I am proud to count you as colleagues and partners. And I urge you all to keep up the great work.