(STL.News) – Good Afternoon. Thank you, Suey.
Welcome to the Civil Rights Division’s 2019 Awards Ceremony. We come together today to commemorate and celebrate the Division’s exceptional accomplishments throughout this past year.
I would like to begin by taking a moment to thank you for your tireless pursuit of justice for all Americans. It has been a personal privilege and professional honor to serve as the Assistant Attorney General of such a dedicated and tenacious group of individuals and to work with you to enforce some of the most important laws in our nation’s history.
I have enjoyed getting to know and working with so many of you. It is all of you—the hard-working career attorneys and staff dedicated to public service and enforcing the federal civil rights laws of this country—who shepherd home such incredible accomplishments for the Division and American people.
The Civil Rights Division’s achievements are often not quantifiable. The results of our work affect real people throughout the United States. At its finest, your work improves our nation and impacts individuals in their daily lives.
This occurs in various ways and in various settings. Your work prevents the mistreatment of prisoners in Department of Corrections systems across our country, protects individuals who have been the victims of hate crimes, and seeks relief for victims of discrimination in employment, housing, voting, and many other aspects of American life.
I would like to show a short video that was put together by some of our colleagues in the Immigration and Employee Rights Section (IER). The video illustrates how the work we do impacts individuals.
Thank you to the IER team who created that video.
2019 marked another momentous year for the Civil Rights Division. You are going to hear about many of these accomplishments as we honor our awardees. Before we start that ceremony, I want to highlight just a few accomplishments for the year.
- In June, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, just as a team of our special litigation section attorneys completed a four-week trial in the state of Mississippi. Then, in September, the District Court judge agreed with the Department of Justice, finding that Mississippi’s current mental health system “falls short of the requirements established by law.”
- Over the course of fiscal year 2019, the Voting Section monitored, and organized the Division’s monitoring of, 100 elections in 90 jurisdictions in 21 states, to ensure that our nation’s voting laws are being followed as citizens exercise their franchise rights. In June, the Voting Section settled a lawsuit against a city in Michigan under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The settlement ensures that the city’s citizens have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, and to elect candidates of their choice to their city council. And in October, when a litigant filed an eleventh-hour lawsuit designed to frustrate a consent decree in Kentucky, the Voting Section worked overtime during a holiday weekend to draft and file a comprehensive statement of interest. The team then traveled to Kentucky and presented argument in a state court on Columbus Day.
- And, it is not just through our work on cases where we are making a positive impact. A little over a year ago, our Policy Section played a leading role in creating and launching an online resource designed to combat hate crimes. In a little over a year, over 270,000 people have visited the site. And the site has helped over 400 people find their way to the FBI’s crime reporting portal.
Successful outcomes like these are only possible because of the dedicated individuals within the Civil Rights Division, who zealously seek to remedy injustice wherever it exists.
Protecting civil rights and ensuring equal justice under the law requires enforcing the law in a manner that safeguards the integrity of the mission set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that we are all created equal.
And President Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, refined the Declaration’s principles and still speaks to us.
I would like to pause for a second to reflect on a part of what he said there. President Lincoln was at Gettysburg to “dedicate a portion” of a battlefield as a cemetery. Four months earlier, from July 1st to the 3d, Gettysburg was home to the largest battle ever in the Western Hemisphere. Thousands of Americans died, and the president spoke about the “final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”
President Lincoln also spoke of our nation as “conceived in liberty” and “dedicated to the proposition” that we are all created equal.
He instructed that “[i]t is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” President Lincoln then famously resolved that our nation would “have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
As you know, we as a nation have struggled throughout our history to fulfill President Lincoln’s resolution. We remain, however, a government of, by, and for the people. All of you and our colleagues who serve in the Civil Rights Division are the “people” of the government, and it is our sacred duty and privilege to serve “for the people” of the United States.
Our mission is to enforce the civil rights laws and, in so doing, to help the people and our nation attain the freedom and equality envisioned by the Gettysburg Address.
Our nation is blessed that each of you live out this mission every day. The work of the honorees we recognize today speaks to the capability and caliber of the entire Civil Rights Division. Great accomplishments by individuals are made possible by the support of the colleagues and organization that brace them.
In turning our attention to the work of today’s honorees, each of those who we recognize today achieved remarkable accomplishments through their tremendous work and perseverance. Their work exemplified high standards of skill and talent, keen judgement, and a sincere commitment to public interest.
Each of the honorees’ work also demonstrated, both, their personal integrity, and their dedication to preserving the integrity of the Justice Department. These noble and admirable contributions are deserving of the highest recognition. On behalf of the Division, the Department, and the American people: thank you for your excellence and your service.
With that, I would like to begin the 2019 awards presentations.