Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Deputy Attorney General [Sally] Q. Yates, for that kind introduction – and for your invaluable partnership in leading this department and advancing its mission. I also want to thank Director [Richard] Toscano and the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity Staff for the great care and effort you put into events like this one and for your tireless devotion to preserving and building upon the Justice Department’s proud record of maintaining a diverse workforce. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be with so many good friends, outstanding colleagues and distinguished guests as we gather to celebrate Women’s History Month; to recognize the tremendous progress that we’ve made; and to recommit ourselves to the work yet to be done.
The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government,” and it’s a theme that could not be more appropriate for our celebration this morning. After all, creating that more perfect union is the Justice Department’s defining mission, particularly in areas where the law has been used to make more difficult the full participation in our democracy. We stand here today in 2016, not yet 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to the ultimate participation in our great democracy – the right to vote. It seems strange to look back and see that, while some states and territories embraced female suffrage, nationally it was an idea that convulsed the populace and stirred tumultuous debate. It seems hard to believe that, at one time, women could not enter contracts or conduct business in their own names and that married women literally ceased to have a legal identity.
But one of the strengths of our democracy and our constitution is embedded in that phrase, “to create a more perfect Union” – a recognition that we as a country will always seek to grow, to challenge old ways of thinking and move ever towards the promise of equality for all.
Today, of course, our country and the mission of this great department depend on – and benefit from – the contributions of women as never before. Women serve the department as prosecutors and paralegals, trial attorneys and special agents, spokespeople and support staff. They investigate and prosecute tough cases and apprehend dangerous fugitives. They represent the federal government in litigation, safeguarding consumers, protecting the environment, upholding civil rights and combating waste, fraud and abuse. They ensure the accuracy of our budgets and the soundness of our infrastructure; they look after the health of our employees and the security of our facilities. In these and in so many other ways, women are essential to our ongoing efforts to protect the rights and well-being of every American – and the central role they play is proof of the department’s commitment to embodying the values that we defend every day.
This year’s celebration of Women’s History Month is made particularly special by the number of women who occupy leadership positions in the department – a significant change from just two decades ago, when Janet Reno made history as this country’s first female Attorney General. I have the honor of following in her footsteps in leading this great department and I am fortunate to have the critical support of Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates – who previously broke ground as the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia – and the assistance of the many talented and dedicated women who serve as component heads, several of whom you will have the chance to hear from in just a moment. Their presence on the stage is a testament to how far this department, and this nation, have come. Their presence also represents the beacon of opportunity that is this Department of Justice. I recall joining the department some 26 years ago this month. I was drawn to a U.S. Attorney’s Office and a practice that showed me women leading the office and headlining major cases, criminal and civil. One of those groundbreaking women lawyers whose work I so admired is here on stage today as our Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division – Leslie Caldwell. It has been my privilege to be inspired by our other panelists as well, as they lead our department with tenacity, with determination, with courage and consummate grace.
Of course, there is a great deal of work still left to be done. Women remain underrepresented in government and business. And throughout the country, women continue to face a number of uniquely difficult challenges. At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to confront and overcome those challenges – from addressing gender bias in policing, to supporting victims of intimate-partner violence; and from our work to end human trafficking, to our efforts against discrimination in the workplace. In every case and every instance, we are striving to break down the barriers that hold women back and to remove the roadblocks that obstruct paths to success. More than ever, we are dedicated to ensuring that our nation’s promises of freedom, opportunity and justice for all are delivered equally across gender lines.
That is no easy task, and we will continue to face obstacles in the months ahead. History tells us there will be resistance. But history also tells us what happens when you tell a group of determined women they cannot do something – they organize and protest and yes, suffer, and ultimately gain a constitutional amendment. History tells us that when you tell a group of determined women they cannot play a particular sport, or attend law school, they persevere and go on to lead the Department of Justice. They work together to form a more perfect Union. Thank you for coming here today. Thank you for supporting the work of extraordinary women everywhere, but especially in our Department of Justice. And thank you all for working tirelessly to eliminate all barriers for everyone to participation in this great democracy of ours – for working to form a more perfect Union. I want to thank you all for your devotion to that noble mission, and for your service to the Department of Justice.