Dr. King And Perfecting The Union

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Vanita Gupta

ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL VANITA GUPTA DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT’S 2015 MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY PROGRAM

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery. WASHINGTON, D.C.

Good morning.  Thank you for joining us today as we honor one of our nation’s most treasured heroes.

Dr. King helped shepherd some of our most cherished civil rights laws.  His nonviolent activism and belief that equality was inevitable set an example for generations of Americans seeking to perfect our nation.

Dr. King’s vision is inscribed in the pages of the U.S. Code.  In the year that’s just ended, and the year that’s just begun, our nation is celebrating four anniversaries of our bipartisan commitment to landmark civil rights laws: the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act; and the fifth anniversary of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  Each of these laws builds on Dr. King’s legacy.

But I know that Dr. King would remind us that our celebrations cannot be just about their passage.  They must also become occasions for us to recommit ourselves to ensuring that these laws continue to have meaning in people’s lives.  And even as we honor Dr. King through programs such as this, we should also honor his legacy by emulating him in our actions and our public discourse.  We should remind ourselves that his work has not yet been completed.  And we should remember that when faced with unrelenting and systematic discrimination, he responded not with hatred of his own, but with reason, compassion, and a steadfast commitment to nonviolent action.

I have been at the department for just about three months, and each day I am so impressed by the breadth and depth of the Civil Rights Division’s work.  For more than five decades, the division has been at the forefront of enforcing the laws that prohibit discrimination and uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all who live in America.  The work of the division advances individuals’ opportunity to learn, earn a living, live where they choose, and worship freely.

It ensures the right to vote and access to justice.  It builds mutual trust and respect between communities and law enforcement through ensuring constitutional policing.  Our work helps to ensure that people can live free from exploitation, discrimination, and violence regardless of the color of their skin, who they love, or their faith.  The division also is engaged in a broad range of criminal justice reform work, including in our nation’s prisons, jails, school, juvenile justice systems and indigent defense systems.  And, through this work, we give voice to the marginalized, vulnerable, and forgotten.  It represents an institutional, public commitment to Dr. King’s legacy.

For the last six years, the Civil Rights Division has had no greater supporter than Attorney General Eric Holder, who I now have the great honor to introduce.  Indeed, Attorney General Holder is a contemporary torchbearer of Dr. King’s legacy.

He has repeatedly and consistently made clear that the enforcement of our nation’s critical civil rights laws is a top priority for the Justice Department, and he has backed up his commitment with action.  From advocating strongly for a smarter and fairer criminal justice system that promotes public and law enforcement safety, to securing record setting fair housing and fair lending discrimination settlements to supporting landmark agreements that allow people with disabilities to live in their communities to ensuring all children in this country have equal access to high quality education, Attorney General Holder has been an unwavering champion of the work of the Civil Rights Division and of civil rights work more broadly.  And, through his tireless efforts, our nation has moved closer to fulfilling its promise of equal opportunity and equal justice for all.

Unfortunately for all of us, the Attorney General’s time at the department may soon be coming to an end.  But, his tremendous legacy of civil rights enforcement must continue.  That is why it is incumbent on each one of us to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the transformational work that the Attorney General initiated and inspired continues onward.

And so, it is with great pride that I introduce to you the third longest serving Attorney General in United States history and my boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.

 

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