Civil Rights Head Grilled at Oversight Hearing
Feature Story by Katie Drake - 5/23/2002WASHINGTON – A pledge by the Bush Administration’s top civil rights enforcer to prosecute three voting rights violation cases out of some 11,000 complaints related to the Florida 2000 election is meeting broad skepticism from civil rights lawyers.
Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee spurred the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to criticize his “amazing” take on the department’s responsibilities.
Boyd, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told the Senate panel May 21 of plans to bring three to five cases on voting rights violations, possibly within the next 30 to 60 days.
“In many regards, this action by the Justice Department is too little too late,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “I find it amazing that they received 11,000 complaints yet only three were viable in Florida. It is difficult to imagine how the Justice Department's actions will address the systemic problems that minority voters encountered in Florida.”
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the hearing at which six Democrats zeroed in on the Justice Department’s thin volume of prosecutions following a historically contentious 2000 presidential vote.
Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) was able to get Boyd to disclose the number of and timeline for voting rights cases to be prosecuted in Florida, Tennessee, and Missouri. Boyd promised the cases would address problems with bilingual assistance, disparate treatment of minorities, and improper voting roll purges, among other pertinent issues.
In recent weeks numerous news accounts called into question the propriety of actions of Boyd, criticizing the involvement of the Civil Rights Division in the Adams Mark hotels case , redistricting in Mississippi and charges related to the detailing of lawyers within the department.
The hearing also addressed hate crime enforcement and the definition of racial profiling. Senators Kennedy, Edwards, Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) attended.
Boyd promised further documentation to the panel and Sen. Kennedy promised future hearings on the Civil Rights Division’s activities.
Statement of The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Testimony of The Honorable Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.