Civil Rights Leaders Call on Rep. Howard Coble to Resign Chairmanship of Judiciary Subcommittee

Media 02.13.03

WASHINGTON — In a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) released today, Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil rights coalition, and Dr. Dorothy I. Height, LCCR Chairperson, urged the two senior House Republicans to ask Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) to step down as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. The letter was prompted by alarming remarks by Rep. Coble in which he defended the tragic World War II internment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent.

“His comments were not only misinformed but deeply offensive not only to those who suffered under the program but to all who believe in civil rights,” wrote LCCR. “The creation of WWII internment camps had nothing whatsoever to do with protecting Japanese Americans; rather, it was a product of wartime hysteria and failed political leadership as well as outright bigotry. Congress and former President Ronald Reagan recognized and acknowledged this in 1988, in passing the Civil Liberties Act.”

LCCR’s letter pointed out that Rep. Coble’s remarks were especially alarming because of the growing potential for threats to the civil rights and liberties of Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Sikh Americans today in the post-September 11 environment.

“Rep. Coble’s comments show that he clearly does not have an understanding of the relevance today of this tragic aspect of American history, which is particularly alarming given the fact that he implicitly impugns the Arab American community in the process,” LCCR continued. “In light of the very real possibility that current efforts to protect homeland security could lead to calls for the even greater use of racial and ethnic profiling, the comments raise serious questions about the strength of his commitment to safeguarding the Constitution.”

“We believe that America must find ways of protecting our national security without resorting to egregious violations of the Constitution’s most fundamental guarantees. Through his statements, it would appear that Rep. Coble does not necessarily hold the same belief, and in light of this, we urge that you ask him to step aside as chairman,” LCCR concluded, in their letter to Speaker Hastert and Chairman Sensenbrenner.