Conservatwits love to criticize Obama for “having some nothing for black folks”, knowing full well that in the one or two cases he has said something, they can whine full throttle about our “racist President”.
Obama’s approach from the beginning has been low key. Despite all the caterwauling, whimpering, and hysterics of the Republicans – he gets it done. Sometimes his hand moves in ways which the Public never really recognizes until way too late. This one is a masterstroke!
Case in point – The Justice Department working for Civil Rights in local courts around the country. Of course in some places, specifically those with right wing justices, they know they can’t win – but they can put a point on the case which will may change things in higher court. This started a long time ago under former Attorney General Eric Holder. Good to see Loretta Lynch is continuing the struggle.
Burlington, Wash., was a small city fighting what seemed like a local lawsuit. Three poor people said that their public lawyers were too overworked to adequately represent them in municipal court cases. The dispute went mostly unnoticed for two years, until the Obama administration became involved.
Unannounced, the Justice Department filed documents in the case and told the judge that he had broad authority to demand changes in Burlington and nearby Mount Vernon. The judge quickly agreed and ordered the cities to hire a new public defense supervisor. He also said he would monitor their legal aid program for three years.
That 2013 decision was a significant victory for the Justice Department in a novel legal campaign that began early in the Obama administration and has expanded in recent years. In dozens of lawsuits around the country involving local disputes, the federal government has filed so-called statements of interest, throwing its weight behind private lawsuits and, in many cases, pushing the boundaries of civil rights law.
The federal government has typically waded into local court cases only when the outcome directly affected a federal interest, such as national security or diplomacy. Recently, however, the Justice Department has filed statements of interest in cases involving legal aid in New York, transgender students in Michigan, juvenile prisoners in solitary detention in California, and people who take videos of police officers in Baltimore. The government has weighed in on employment discrimination claims brought by transgender plaintiffs and a lawsuit over the right of blind people to be able to use Uber, a car-sharing service.
“The Justice Department is sending a clear message: that we will not accept criminal justice procedures that have discriminatory effects,” former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in February after filing documents in a case involving high court bonds in Alabama. “We will not hesitate to fight institutionalized injustice wherever it is found.”
Loretta E. Lynch, who became attorney general in April, has continued the initiative unabated.
Civil rights groups have applauded the move — and in turn flooded the Justice Department with requests for government intervention in their cases. But to lawyers on the other side, it can feel as if the government is using private court cases to make political points.
US DOJ Chief Prosecutor of Civil Rights Enforcement, Vanita Gupta. “We want to do as much federal civil rights work as possible, and statements of interest are effective, efficient tools,” Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, said in an interview.
“From the community’s perspective, it was an ongoing nightmare,” said Scott G. Thomas, the lawyer for Burlington in the lawsuit over legal aid. The Obama administration’s involvement turned the city of about 8,000 people into a national symbol. “Why is the Department of Justice interested in a little case involving two little communities in northwest Washington?” Mr. Thomas said…
By using such court filings in civil rights cases, the Obama administration is saying it has an interest in preserving constitutional rights in the same way it has an interest in foreign policy. There are examples of past administrations using statements of interest to coax public policy — such as in 2005 when the Bush administration intervened in the case over whether to keep Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman with severe brain damage, on life support. But neither career Justice Department officials nor longtime advocates can recall such a concerted effort to insert the federal government into local civil rights cases…
When the Justice Department intervened last year in a lawsuit over legal aid in New York, for example, officials said it took no position on whether the state was violating the constitutional rights of indigent defendants. But government lawyers adopted the same core legal arguments as the plaintiffs and encouraged the judge to scrutinize the legal aid system broadly.
“It was a game changer,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which was involved in that court fight. The state settled the lawsuit soon after the Justice Department became involved. Ms. Lieberman said the agency’s intervention was “a powerful way to help support a fundamental right.”…More…