The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Civil Rights Monitor
On the Hill
- The Year in Judicial and Executive Nominations
- D.C. Voting Rights: Closer than Ever
- Hate Crimes Bill Moves through Congress
- Fighting to Preserve and Restore Workers' Rights
- The Immigration Reform Debate Continues
- Congress Begins Addressing Subprime Mortgage Fallout
- Successes and Setbacks on ENDA
- Backlash against the REAL ID Act Grows
In the Courts
In the States
- Civil Rights Enforcement Takes Center Stage
- Leadership Conference Steps Up Anti-Poverty Efforts
- New Civil Rights Partnership Calls Attention to Nation's High School Crisis
- Why Americans Should Care about the Great Switch to DTV
- President Clinton, John Hope Franklin, and Tammy Duckworth Are 2007 Hubert H. Humphrey Honorees
Civil Rights Enforcement Takes Center Stage
In 2007, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF) launched a campaign to promote national awareness of the importance of vigorous enforcement of federal civil rights laws and Supreme Court decisions eroding access to the courts and effective remedies in civil rights cases.
"The laws remain on the books, the agencies continue to exist, but weakened statutes, anemic enforcement, and lack of meaningful reporting and oversight have rolled back civil rights protections, without fanfare or public debate," said LCCR President Wade Henderson. "Our challenge with this campaign is to lift the issue of civil rights enforcement to the front of the American consciousness and promote public support for reversing the retreat on civil rights."
As part of this effort, in September 2007, LCCREF launched a new, interactive website, www.ReclaimCivilRights.org, which provides information about the history of civil rights enforcement and the important role meaningful federal civil rights laws have played in creating the more just and equal society in which Americans live.
On October 19-20, 2007, LCCREF co-hosted a conference in Durham, North Carolina entitled, "Why We Can't Wait: Reversing the Retreat on Civil Rights." The conference, which was co-hosted by North Carolina Central University Law School and the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, brought together more than 300 lawyers, community leaders, academics, and other stakeholders to discuss the civil rights rollback, its impact, and the need to have a coordinated response.
LCCREF plans to host similar events around the country in the next two years as part of its campaign.
Understanding the Supreme Court's Impact
The centerpiece of the campaign has been to highlight the Supreme Court's effort to rollback access to the court and meaningful remedies for civil rights plaintiffs.
For example, in 2001, the Supreme Court gutted the right of victims of discrimination to achieve redress in the federal courts in its Alexander v. Sandoval ruling, which held that individuals have no right to sue under the disparate impact regulations promulgated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI bars discrimination in federally funded programs.
As a result of Sandoval, numerous cases were stalled in their tracks, including cases challenging inequitable funding of public schools, concentration of toxic wastes in minority communities, and the failure to provide access to the disabled in air travel. With this decision and others, the Court has dramatically limited the power and effectiveness of many of our nation's civil rights and labor laws.
Civil Rights Division Oversight
While the Supreme Court is rolling back access to courts and meaningful remedies for civil rights plaintiffs, the effectiveness of the nation's largest civil rights law firm -- Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice -- has declined over the past few years.
In March 2007 testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, LCCR Vice Chair William L. Taylor stated, "As the Division approaches its 50th anniversary, it is in deep trouble because the Bush administration has used it as a vessel for its own political objectives, often disregarding the law and sullying the group's reputation for professionalism and integrity." In support of this statement, Taylor cited accounts from six former attorneys of the Civil Rights Division featured in a report by the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights and the Center for American Progress, "The Erosion of Rights: Declining Civil Rights Enforcement under the Bush Administration."
As part of its systematic monitoring of the work of the Civil Rights Division, the Leadership Conference released a report on September 5, 2007, entitled "Long Road to Justice: The Civil Rights Division at 50," which examines the history of the Division and the decline of its effectiveness.
The report's critique focuses on three main areas of concern: a sharp decline in the total number of cases prosecuted by Division attorneys; changes in the Division's civil rights enforcement priorities; and recent politicization of the attorney hiring process. It also proposes recommendations to restore the Division's integrity and return it to its original mission.
"As long as discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or disability remains a sad, harsh reality in this country, the battle against it must remain a central priority of the Civil Rights Division," said LCCR's Henderson.
In recent months, LCCR has also worked to oppose the confirmation of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Von Spakovsky, a former official in the Civil Rights Division with oversight of the Voting Section, has drawn criticism from a wide variety of civil rights and good government groups.
"Von Spakovsky's record of partisan enforcement of the voting rights laws while an official at the Department of Justice, and his pursuit of policies that systematically block access to the franchise for poor and minority voters make him unqualified to serve on the Federal Election Commission, " said Julie Fernandes, LCCR senior counsel.
LCCR is working with its coalition partners to make the case that, if confirmed to a six-year term on the FEC, von Spakovsky would use this position -- through three election cycles -- to interpret and enforce the campaign finance and elections laws to the detriment of minority, low income and rural voters.
In June 2007, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, a pay discrimination case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In this case, a 5-4 Court held that Title VII's requirement that employees file their pay discrimination complaints within 180 days of "the alleged unlawful employment practice," means that the complaint must be filed within 180 days from the day Goodyear first started to pay Ledbetter differently, rather than -- as many courts had previously held -- from the day she received her last discriminatory paycheck.
To address this, LCCR, working with its coalition partners, is pursuing a legislative fix to Ledbetter, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would make clear that a plaintiff's pay discrimination claim is timely if brought within 180 of the last discriminatory paycheck. The House passed the bill on July 31, 2007 by a vote of 225 to 199. The Senate has a companion bill that is expected to move soon.
While LCCR's legislative work to combat the civil rights rollback is focused now on the problem of the Ledbetter decision, this decision is part of the Court's recent pattern of limiting both access to the courts and remedies available to victims of discrimination.
In response to this wholesale attack on civil rights, LCCR has worked with its coalition partners to develop a comprehensive civil rights bill that would enable individuals to challenge practices that have an unjustified discriminatory effect on their lives, protect students from harassment in schools that receive federal funds, hold employers accountable for age discrimination, and improve accountability for other violations of civil rights and workers' rights by restoring access to the courts and meaningful remedies.
To educate the public and policymakers about the intersection of domestic civil rights obligations and U.S. commitments under the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Leadership Conference is submitting a shadow report to the United Nation's CERD Committee, to be considered as part of the Committee's review of the United States' April 2007 submission on compliance with the treaty. The Leadership Conference's shadow report includes an assessment of U.S. compliance with the CERD and helps to frame further inquiry by the CERD committee members.
The Civil Rights Monitor is an annual publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Previous issues of the Monitor are available online. Browse or search the archives