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Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Summit


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Liz, for that kind introduction.  I am grateful to the Anti-Defamation League’s leaders and members for the invitation to speak. It is a great honor to join you tonight.

When I served as United States Attorney for Maryland, some of our employees were honored by your organization for their work in fighting terrorism and discrimination.  I appreciate your support of law enforcement and your commitment to justice. I know that you are devoted to combating bigotry and discrimination, regardless of political ideology.

I understand that your theme is to “join the good fight.” I know that you do not mean to engage in a literal fight. This organization prizes peace and not combat.

The phrase, “the good fight,” brings to mind a man named Vernon Johns. Johns preceded Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Born in 1892, Reverend Johns was the grandson of slaves.  He opposed segregation and helped build support for the Civil Rights Movement. 

Johns followed his mother’s sage advice: “If you see a good fight, get in it.”

Dr. King followed that guidance in a non-violent way, and the Anti-Defamation League has followed it for more than a century. 

When the ADL started in 1913, Jewish Americans faced discrimination in many aspects of life, including in education and in the workplace.

That was the era of Jewish quotas in the Ivy Leagues.  Jewish people were not welcome in many country clubs and law firms. It was also the era of Leo Frank, a Jewish man kidnapped and lynched in Georgia in 1915.

By confronting hate, the ADL has helped our society to enhance tolerance and reduce discrimination.  After more than a century, the ADL continues to fight the good fight. 

And time and again, the ADL has helped the Department of Justice perform its important duties for the American people. 

For instance, you provide valuable training to law enforcement officers in America and many other countries.  The ADL now trains approximately 15,000 law enforcement officers every year.  Since 1999, more than 130,000 officers have benefited from that program. 

The agencies you train include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service, Federal Protective Service, DEA, and FBI. 

The training focuses on the Holocaust perpetrated by Hitler and the German Nazi party. We study the Holocaust not only to understand the depths of depravity that people can perpetrate, but also as a reminder to guard against the risk of moral corruption in our own time. 

The importance of enforcing the rule of law is a central lesson of the Holocaust.

One of the most famous quotations about that era is by German theologian Martin Niemoller. Niemoller failed to speak up against oppression in the 1930s. He then spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps. Niemoller explained that “when they came for me … there was no one [else] left to speak.”

In 1535, the King of England executed Sir Thomas More, history’s greatest martyr for the rule of law. A Catholic who revered the Pope, More refused to take an oath declaring the King the supreme head of the church. In Robert Bolt’s brilliant play about More, “A Man for All Seasons,” More defends the rule of law in an argument with his son-in-law, William Roper.

Roper is angry because More says he would allow even the Devil to benefit from the protection provided by the rule of law.

Roper insists that he would cut down every law, if necessary, to destroy the Devil.

More replies, “Oh?  And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?”

More concludes, “I’d give the Devil the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

The point is that we must defend the rule of law at all times, even when it is difficult, so it will be there for us when we need it.

One way that the Department of Justice helps to enforce the rule of law and deter discrimination is to prosecute hate crime violations. When victims are attacked because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, there are laws that empower us to respond.

Enforcing those laws is important to President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, and we enforce them aggressively. 

President Trump recognized last August that “[n]o matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God.  We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence.  We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.”

Under Attorney General Sessions, our Department treats hate crimes as violent crimes.  Our Attorney General said that “[n]o person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship.”

Since January 2017, our Department has pursued hate crimes charges against more than two dozen defendants and obtained 22 convictions. 

The ADL supported the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act a decade ago.  In 2017, the Department of Justice brought the first prosecution under the Act involving a victim targeted because of gender identity.  The defendant pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 49 years in federal prison for the murder of Mercedes Williamson.

In another matter, Attorney General Sessions sent an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student in Iowa.  That case resulted in a life sentence.

Our Department also remains vigilant against anti-Semitic hate crimes.  Those crimes increased 12 percent from 2014 to 2016. 

Three months ago, we indicted a 19-year-old dual American-Israeli citizen for allegedly calling in bomb threats and active shooter threats to Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish organizations around the country.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes doubled from 2014 to 2016.  We are aggressively investigating and prosecuting those cases, as well.

Last month, the Department secured convictions of three men who attempted to bomb a Kansas apartment building with a mosque used by Somali Muslims.  The defendants held meetings to plan the attack and took significant steps toward implementing their plan, including making and testing explosives.

Thanks to a confidential source, the FBI prevented the attack, and we are holding the suspects accountable.

It is important to collect accurate data so that we understand the scope of hate crimes. Last year, the FBI trained nearly 900 law enforcement agencies about hate crime data collection.  Within the next three years, the FBI plans to consolidate all crime reporting in a single interface that includes hate crimes.

We are also working closely with state and local authorities to prevent hate crimes. The FBI’s Civil Rights Unit developed a hate crime-training program for law enforcement agencies and community organizations around the country.

Our Department also combats discrimination in other ways.

Last year, our Civil Rights Division resolved discrimination cases involving mosques in Michigan, New Jersey, and Illinois, under the zoning provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  That civil rights law prohibits the use of zoning regulations in a discriminatory or unduly burdensome manner against places of worship and other religious institutions.  We have ten ongoing investigations regarding discrimination against mosques and synagogues.

The ADL is proactive in ensuring that the rights of all religious communities to build, buy or rent places of worship are protected.  The ADL founded the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, a diverse group that files legal briefs in cases around the country. 

One such case involved efforts to build a mosque in Bernards Township, New Jersey. A group purchased a property in a location that permitted places of worship, but the local government still denied approval to build a mosque.

We filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination, and the township eventually settled the case. The ADL supported the mosque by filing an amicus brief. 

Combating human trafficking is another important initiative of our Department. Last year, we convicted nearly 500 defendants for human trafficking, a grave offense against human dignity and human rights.  We have convicted labor traffickers for exploiting Guatemalan minors and young adults at an Ohio egg farm. The perpetrators lured the victims with false promises of good jobs and education, then required them to work long hours in grueling conditions, for little or no pay. 

The victims were housed in overcrowded, unsanitary trailers, and their families were threatened with harm if they did not comply. 

In another case last month, we secured a 33-year sentence against a sex trafficker who lured young women and girls after falsely promising them careers in the entertainment industry. The defendant then compelled them to engage in prostitution.

The Department of Justice fully supports the men and women of law enforcement.  The overwhelming majority of them are courageous and honorable public servants.  But in those occasional instances where police officers violate their oaths, our Department holds them accountable. 

For example, we obtained a 20-year sentence for a South Carolina police officer who unlawfully shot and killed an African-American man named Walter Scott. 

In Maryland, federal agents and prosecutors recently convicted eight members of a rogue Baltimore police unit on federal charges for a scheme that included conducting illegal searches, robbing drug dealers, making fraudulent overtime claims, and engaging in a cover up.

In another Maryland case, we recently prosecuted 18 correctional officers for a range of crimes both with and against inmates, including civil rights violations.

Our Department does not rest on its laurels.  We know that there is a lot of work for us to do. 

In 2017, the Department’s Civil Rights Division conducted a four-day intensive hate crime-training program for federal prosecutors.  We will hold more such events in the future, and we welcome your help.

There will be additional opportunities for the ADL and the Department to work together, and I look forward to seeing those collaborations develop. 

When hate crimes are committed, we will bring the full force of the law against the defendant.  When rights have been violated, the Department of Justice will pursue appropriate remedies.

The rule of law is fundamental to justice. That is why government employees are required to take an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

President Abraham Lincoln spoke about the oath of office in his first inaugural address. When Lincoln took office in 1861, slave states had already started to secede from the Union. Lincoln explained in his address that after swearing an oath to defend the government, he could never accept its dissolution.

Lincoln’s primary concern was about geography: the unity of the American states.

But Lincoln also spoke about another type of unity: the unity of the American people.

His words resonate today. Partisan differences are exacerbated by the media. Opposing parties are at war, figuratively. But in Lincoln’s time, people were literally at war. The differences of opinion then were deeper than any of ours today.

Still, Lincoln insisted that his opponents not be treated as enemies, because they were all Americans.

Lincoln said that “[w]e are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Lincoln invoked the “mystic chords of memory” that tie Americans together, and he concluded his inaugural address by appealing to “the better angels of our nature.”

President Trump echoed that sentiment with his remarks last summer: “We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.”

A shared commitment to the pursuit of justice under the rule of law is the central bond that ties Americans together.

In 1951, 90 years after Lincoln’s address, Judge Learned Hand said that “[i]f we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment.  Thou shalt not ration justice.”

At the Department of Justice, our 115,000 employees work tirelessly to faithfully discharge their duties. Priorities change, but our commitment to justice is timeless.

One of my favorite quotations about justice is inscribed in a frame from my parents that hangs on my office wall. It is from the Book of Deuteronomy, a collection of sermons that the Bible tells us were delivered by Moses before his people entered the promised land, after escaping from Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Moses ordered the former slaves to appoint judges throughout the land. Their instructions are to judge fairly, to show no partiality, and to take no bribes. The goal, as it is written, is a simple one: “You must pursue justice, and only justice, so that you may live and thrive in the land that God has given to you.” The word justice appears twice. It is not a typographical error. It is a point of emphasis.

So please keep on pursuing justice. And try not to fight. But if you need to join a fight, make sure that it’s a “good fight.”

Thank you very much.

Hate Crimes
Updated May 6, 2018