[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] repeatedly stressed his personal and institutional commitment to the protection of civil rights in a speech [text] to Justice Department staff Wednesday setting out the Department's priorities for the coming year. First on his formal list was the fight against terrorism, followed by initiatives on violent crime, drug trafficking, cyber crime, civil rights, and public and corporate corruption.
It was civil rights, however, that seemed to resonate most powerfully through the speech, with Gonzales reminding listeners at the outset that after taking office last year he attended a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens in New York and promised them to work hard protecting their newly acquired right to vote. Emphasizing his personal commitment, he later explained:
Because of the struggles of my parents and grandparents, I care deeply about civil rights in America today, about the African-American family that is denied the right to vote, or the Mexican-American couple who can't get decent housing. I care about applying the law to everyone equally so that everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.Crediting the Department's Civil Rights Division [official website] with "record levels of enforcement" protecting the right to vote, the right of the disabled to full participation in their communities, and the rights of institutionalized persons to "the highest standard of care", he dedicated the Department to new efforts in suppressing human trafficking [DOJ backgrounder] and ensuring fair housing [Operation Home Sweet Home factsheet].
Gonzales' remarks come after a rocky year in the Civil Rights Division when press reports revealed that senior leadership had overruled staff recommendations on sensitive issues relating to redistricting [JURIST report] and voting rights [JURIST report], and that Division lawyers were leaving their positions [JURIST report] in record numbers amid allegations that the current administration is damaging morale and frustrating the efforts of long-time employees.