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Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco Delivers Remarks at the Justice Department’s Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Attorney General Garland.

It’s a pleasure and an honor to join all of you in the Great Hall for this celebration.

In June of 1963, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to advocate for the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

To open that hearing, he said this:

“In this generation, we have seen an extraordinary change in America – a new surge of idealism in our life — a new and profound insistence on reality in our democratic order. Much has been done. But quite obviously much more must be done — both because the American people are clearly demanding it and because, by any moral standard it is right.”

A year later, after a long hard fight, the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land.

And today, it remains the bedrock of our work to promote equal justice under the law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a story of how the Department of Justice not only addressed the inequities of the present — but also, how it anticipated those of the future.

Guided by our nation’s civil rights leaders and organizers, the Department dared to look ahead, imagining what equal treatment under the law meant in public life — from education to employment and beyond.

As we celebrate 60 years of the Civil Rights Act, it’s vital to acknowledge how far we’ve come — and even more important to acknowledge that our work is unfinished.

The “extraordinary change in America” Attorney General Kennedy described in 1963 has only hastened. Our progress is evident.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act was a watershed moment in our country’s march toward a more perfect union — outlawing segregation in public accommodations and banning discrimination in public schools and the workplace.

But, of course, discrimination persists.

Indeed, we have much more to do to stop hate, intolerance, and bias from being exacerbated and accelerated — including by technology.

The architects of 1964 could not have anticipated how misuses of technology — from cybercrime and artificial intelligence to social media algorithms and beyond, could pose a threat to the very rights and opportunities protected by the Civil Rights Act and successor legislation like the Voting Rights Act.

We’ve seen it when folks search for a home, apply for a job, receive medical care, and in too many other instances.

We’ve seen how it can crack open a window for foreign adversaries and bad actors to divide and mislead voters, threatening their most fundamental right — the right to vote.

But 60 years later, because of the Civil Rights Act, bias fueled by automated systems is still bias.

Hate accelerated by advanced algorithms is still hate.

And discrimination enabled by artificial intelligence is still discrimination.

More than half a century after its passage, the Civil Rights Act still offers the framework and legal tools to protect those whose civil rights are threatened by whatever comes next.

And as a Department, we understand and accept our responsibility to lead on evolving issues that impact basic rights.

Our Civil Rights Division fights every day against discrimination in all its forms — including when it’s enabled by technology.

That’s why the Department secured a landmark settlement against Meta for the discriminatory use of algorithms to serve up housing ads based on protected characteristics like race and sex.

That’s why the Civil Rights Division has led nine federal agencies to commit to core principles of fairness, equality, and justice as emerging technologies like AI become more common.

And that’s why Assistant Attorney General Clarke is coordinating civil rights enforcement efforts across the federal government to execute the President’s Executive Order on artificial intelligence.

And as we confront the most transformational technology in our history — AI — we are engaging civil rights advocates and leaders through the Justice AI initiative — an effort launched earlier this year to draw on varied perspectives as we prepare for how AI will affect Justice Department’s mission, today and in the future.

On that June day in 1963, Attorney General Kennedy ended his remarks by saying:

“This bill springs from the people’s desire to correct a wrong that has been allowed to exist too long in our society. It comes from the basic sense of justice in the hearts of all Americans.”

The anniversary we mark today represents this Department at its best — seeing past wrongs and righting them.

Today, we also recognize and reaffirm our responsibility to keep pushing that work forward.

Thanks to all of you — colleagues, advocates, leaders, and organizers — for your commitment to advance the promise of the Civil Rights Act; and for lighting the path ahead.

With that, I’d like to invite Acting Associate Attorney General Ben Mizer to share a few words.

Civil Rights
Updated July 9, 2024