According to the New York Times, Attorney General Eric Holder harkened to 'the historical mission of the (civil rights) division' in recently announcing plans for the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) to reinvigorate enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Social justice advocates generally applaud the move. In fact the Applied Research Center (ARC) proclaims that corresponding priorities echo its "Compact for Racial Justice".
Interestingly the "core mission" of our DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section has been described as prosecuting hate crimes and official misconduct. The New York Times reports the division is rebuilding "more traditional efforts on behalf of minorities" without specifically referencing official misconduct. Of course contending with official misconduct or public sector corruption has long been a challenge in America's quest for racial equality.
In 1965 the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights examined "the failure of local officials to prevent racial violence or to apprehend or punish those responsible for it, the failure of local prosecutors to pursue vigorously State criminal remedies, interference by local officials with the exercise of Federal rights, and abuse by local officials of the administration of justice." Even then title 18 of the United States Code, sections 241 and 242, were key provisions in combating these "failure(s) of the States". The title's section 241 prohibits private conspiracies against federal rights and its section 242 forbids deprivation of federal rights under color of law.
By the time related circumstances warrant federal intervention, historically protected people are often more than discrimination victims, having become advocates for personal vindication and broader reform. As envisioned by our U. S. Civil Rights Commission in 1965, "(p)rimary responsibility for correcting (their) problems . . . rests with the individual States" which fail given obstacles more insidious than unlawful discrimination. Anyone legitimately pressing beyond local officials to our federal government for relief, needs a DOJ committed to First Amendment as much if not more than anti-discrimination enforcement.
Especially sacrosanct for grassroots advocates are free speech, freedom of association and assembly, and the right to petition government stemming from the First Amendment of our U. S. Constitution. These are populist tools for defeating illegal bias and other plagues on society, including unresponsive government in a republic such as America. Should the DOJ undertake protecting any person or group, but less so when First Amendment activity puts them in harm's way, it undermines what most Americans likely characterize as freedom.
I am a national spokesperson on tactics used in professional disciplinary actions that thwart properly stated standards for regulating First Amendment activities among lawyers when their criticism of the judiciary or a judicial officer is involved. Legal reform organizations I help administer lobby Congress to protect lawyers and judges endeavoring to expose judicial misconduct. These matters are within a legislator's judicial oversight, but may also relate to unlawful discrimination.
An unchecked legal culture of quiescence can muffle inappropriate judicial bias or discrimination as easily as any other government misconduct. In "Culture of Quiescence", tenured law professor Carl T. Bogus expresses his ". . . thesis that there is a strongly enforced taboo within the Rhode Island legal culture against criticizing the state's governmental institutions, particularly its courts." He notes, "(t)his is a problem in the wider professional culture -- a culture that equates disagreement with confrontation, institutional criticism with ad hominem attack, and anything that even smacks of personal criticism with contemptuousness."
Bogus concludes by remarking that "Rhode Island lawyers live in a culture in which criticism is considered professional treason and punished by both courts and colleagues." Thorough government investigation(s), reasonable discovery, expert testimony, and a jury trial may have fairly addressed whether I live in and have been negatively impacted by such a culture as an Indiana resident. Instead judges as well as quasi-judicial officials answered both questions with a resounding "no" or evaded them through abstention doctrines or by purporting to lack jurisdiction.
As judicial officers are not immune to racial animus, it is possible for African American lawyers, their clients, and others to be stifled by the unlawful discrimination of courts. Proving the race and sex discrimination by local courts that I perceived and challenged as an African American female lawyer more than ten (10) years ago is of less consequence to me now than establishing the extent of unlawfulness used to punish me for doing so. In earnestly considering the matter, our DOJ would help insure that minority lawyers are never unduly displaced as advocates for racial equality.
Alas, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University reported that ". . . the role of the federal government as the court of last resort when it comes to dealing with abusive government officials has long been spotty, with almost all of the matters recommended for prosecution by the FBI being declined by the assistant U. S. Attorneys". In an international press release, I accordingly excluded race as the largest common denominator among America's most vulnerable people. In my view relative lack of wealth defines them as most Americans are poor; not in the sense of being impoverished, but as compared to certain corrupt forces we routinely resist without federal support.
Teaming with me and other grassroots reformers, attorney Michael McCray explained, "(w)e all suffer when low and moderate income people cannot receive due process or simple justice in court; worse still, America suffers when private conspiracies against rights and deprivation of rights under color of law are tolerated by the U.S. Justice Department." Speaking for our coalition, McCray promised "(w)e will continually submit compelling evidence of . . . conspirac(ies) against rights and . . . deprivation(s) of rights under color of law and publicize the DOJ's response". Borrowing sentiments from the ARC with regard to the DOJ's shifting priorities: "(w)e've got a long road ahead of us (and) . . . (i)t's good to know we're not the only ones walking it."
Prior to her full time work as a good government and grassroots reform advocate beginning in 1998, Zena D. Crenshaw-Logal engaged in a general civil law practice. Today Zena pursues a new passion as Chair of the ACORN 8 Legal Affairs Committee, Executive Director of POPULAR, Inc. (Power Over Poverty Under Laws of America Restored), and its sister organization National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP). Learn more by visiting www.popular4people.org/OLTW_newsroom.html