WASHINGTON— Ahead of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s testimony before congressional appropriations subcommittees on Tuesday, several national civil rights and justice system reform leaders spoke out about the implications of a Department of Justice budget that shifts priorities from civil rights enforcement toward a renewed War on Drugs and incarceration. The groups called on members of Congress to push Rosenstein to explain his department’s budget priorities and commit to robust civil rights enforcement.
“Over and over again, Attorney General Sessions has taken steps to undo critical civil rights progress. The administration’s budget request raises more alarm that this Department of Justice will shirk its duty to ensure equal justice under the law for all,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The Attorney General’s move to return to criminal justice policies that have been discredited by people across the political spectrum will only further harm low-income communities and communities of color. Congress must demand that Rosenstein explain how Sessions’ Department of Justice will prioritize its responsibility to protect the civil rights of all and ensure fairness in the administration of justice.”
“At his confirmation hearing in January, Attorney General Sessions said he would follow the law even if it went against his own political beliefs. Yet four months into office, he has done nothing to instill confidence among the civil rights communities who were concerned about his nomination,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The American people deserve to know whether taxpayer dollars and Justice Department resources will be used for the problematic Pence-Kobach commission. We urge lawmakers to press Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein tomorrow for clear answers about the priorities of the Department under Attorney General Sessions.”
“Even in an administration that poses a unique threat to civil rights, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice stands out for its hostility to the equal treatment of groups historically excluded from the American promise of liberty and justice for all,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). “Whether it is retreating from policing reform, reversing its position on Texas’s restrictive voter ID law, or directing prosecutors to revive discredited policies that will only deepen racial disparities in our justice system, the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions has utterly failed to live up to the ideal for which it is named. It is incumbent on the Attorney General to demonstrate to the American people and their representatives how the Justice Department’s proposed budget represents anything other than a doubling down on this administration’s assault on civil rights in the United States. But by abruptly canceling his hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has shirked that responsibility.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the ACLU’s legislative office, said, “Under Attorney General Sessions, the Department of Justice is implementing policies that will further divide the police and the communities they serve. Among them, the administration’s reversal of the decision to stop the use of private prisons gives us great cause for alarm. The relationship between Sessions and the private prison industry has been well documented. It comes as no surprise that Sessions and the administration are advocating for private prisons while at the same time increasing penalties and ramping up detentions.”
“We hope that the Committee will ask the Department of Justice some pointed questions about the Attorney General’s intentions on escalating the war on drugs. The Sessions budget is a strong indication that he wants to take the country back to the failed polices of the1980s and members of Congress must hold him accountable for this,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director, Drug Policy Alliance.
“The Trump budget proposal is the latest manifestation of this administration’s unabashed and deeply troubling hostility toward immigrants and other communities of color. It is a clear attempt to further this administration’s misguided continued efforts to criminalize immigrants and finance mass incarceration. By increasing enforcement funding while simultaneously undermining civil rights protections, we face incredibly harmful policies that prioritize criminalization over basic human rights, putting already marginalized communities at even greater risk,” said Kamal Essaheb, Director of Policy & Advocacy, National Immigration Law Center
Note: Earlier today, the leaders held a press briefing call on this issue. The audio of that call is available here.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF. For more information about LDF, visit www.naacpldf.org.
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, legal and advocacy organization devoted to protecting the rights of everyone in America. For more information about the ACLU, visit www.aclu.org.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. For more information about DPA, visit www.drugpolicy.org.
The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is one of the leading organizations in the United States exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants. Headquartered in Los Angeles with an office in Washington, DC, NILC uses a variety of strategies, including policy analysis, litigation, education and advocacy, to ensure that low-income immigrant families in the U.S. can live freely, work safely, and thrive peacefully. For more information about NILC, visit www.nilc.org.