The Justice Department today announced the creation of a Civil Rights Enforcement Unit within the Birmingham U.S. Attorney’s office, making it the 10th such unit across the country.
The department did so, in part, in Alabama after larger concerns over Alabama’s crackdown on illegal immigration raised red flags about the state’s compliance with federal law, according to a report by the Associated Press. Officials said the unit was not a direct result of immigration concerns, but that it would also investigate issues of fair housing, police brutality and federal disability laws, according to the report.
The unit, which will prosecute both criminal and civil cases, is composed of five lawyers based in Birmingham and Huntsville.
Thomas Perez, the department’s Civil Rights Division chief, and Joyce Vance, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, were in Birmingham to announce the new unit. The force will be led by Robert Posey, a longtime assistant U.S. attorney in the office. Posey prosecuted one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era – the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Four black girls were killed as they attended Sunday school, and two of the defendants were not charged until 2000.
Vance herself has a connection to Alabama’s civil rights history. Her father-in-law, the late Robert Smith Vance, was a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 1989 when he was killed after he opened a mail bomb package mailed to his home by a man who had also targeted the NAACP.
UPDATE: This story has been clarified to include additional information about the unit’s creation.