At an event in the Great Hall Monday honoring the contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is working to “[live] up to its responsibility to provide a work environment where every employee is respected and given an equal opportunity to thrive.”
Holder also pointed to the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues including the new federal hate crimes law — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act that the president signed into law in October — and the Justice Department’s recent decision that the Violence Against Women Act covers same-sex partners.
“We have much to celebrate today. In the year since we last gathered, our nation – and the Justice Department – have taken steps to address some of the unique challenges faced by members of our country’s LGBT community,” said Holder in remarks at the annual DOJ LGBT Pride Month event.
DOJ Pride was founded in 1994, and flourished when Janet Reno was Attorney General. Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales later banned the group from using Justice Department facilities. Attorney General Michael Mukasey welcomed DOJ Pride back to the Great Hall in 2008, and DOJ Pride President Chris Hook said the event has grown in size since the Obama administration took over in January 2009.
During his remarks, Holder also touted the DOJ’s new Diversity Management Plan — which calls for greater diversity in such areas as hiring, promotions and retention — and the appointment of former acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips to manage the implementation of the plan as Deputy Associate Attorney General for Diversity.
“With this initiative, and with Channing’s leadership, we’re working to ensure that the department can effectively recruit, hire, retain, and develop a workforce that reflects our nation’s rich diversity, a department that welcomes and encourages the contributions of its LGBT employees,” Holder said.
Holder did not address some of the controversies that LGBT advocates have raised with the Department of Justice, such as the DOJ’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez introduced the keynote speaker, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan, the first openly gay federal prosecutor to head a U.S Attorney’s office.
“What a difference two years makes,” Durkan said. “Today I stand before you as the first openly gay U.S. Attorney. But I can promise you I’m not the last. In fact, today there are three Senate confirmed openly gay U.S. Attorneys in America.
“Two followed me. I started a trend. But I do want to point out, they’re all women. So guys, you need to step it up,” Durkan joked.
She also praised Holder’s work on the LGBT issues, saying that “there is nobody more committed to equality and justice across America than our Attorney General Eric Holder.”
Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay U.S. Marshal, also spoke at the ceremony and was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Officials in attendance at the event included Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West; Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno of the Environment and Natural Resources Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten; U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman; and Chris Dudley, Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
DOJ Pride also gave out three awards, including to two local advocates for same-sex marriage. D.C. Councilmember David A. Catania, the force behind the law that made same-sex marriage legal in the District of Columbia, received the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award along with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Gansler was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia under then-U.S. Attorney Holder.
Hook received the James R. Douglass Award for his leadership of DOJ Pride. He took over in 2006, when the group had shrank dramatically during the Bush administration, but it has since grown back to the size it was during the Clinton administration.
Hook made it clear when he took over the organization in 2006 that DOJ Pride “did not intend to go into hiding,” said Marc Salans, Assistant Director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, who presented the award.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Justice, the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity staff and DOJ Pride.
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Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it a federal crime to intimidate or threaten witnesses in state court proceedings, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The legislation would give state witnesses the same legal protections that federal witnesses have.
“It is a violation of state law to intimidate a witness, but making it a federal offense imports a great deal more pressure, more power to the situation,” Specter said in a floor statement Tuesday. Here is Specter’s news release about the bill.
According to Specter, the State Witness Protection Act of 2010 is in response to a Philadelphia Inquirer series that found witness fear to be a factor in virtually every violent-crime prosecution in Philadelphia. The legislation would help protect the integrity of the judicial process, Specter said.
“Unless witnesses can be assured they will be protected, the problem of witness intimidation cannot be expected to go away,” he said.
The bill would allow the FBI and federal prosecutors to investigate and bring charges against people who intimidate witnesses in local court cases and would set tough new penalties for those crimes.
It would impose maximum penalties of up to 20 years for intimidating or harming a witness, up to 30 years for the attempted murder of a witness, and the possibility of the death penalty for the murder of a witness, according to the Inquirer.
According to The Inquirer, Specter’s effort was supported by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Barbara Clowden, whose 17-year-old son was killed two days before he was to testify as a witness in an arson trial in 2006. Clowden was profiled in the Inquirer series.
The Inquirer stories documented conviction rates that are among the lowest in the nation and described how thousands of cases collapse after terrified witnesses fail to appear in court.
The legislation is cosponsored by three other Senate Judiciary Committee members: Ted Kaufman, D-Del., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
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Attorney General Eric Holder praised Minnesota’s new U.S. Attorney before more than 300 people at his investiture in Minneapolis, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones previously served as Minnesota’s top federal prosecutor during the Clinton administration. He is the first Senate-confirmed Minnesota U.S. Attorney since Bush appointee Rachel Paulose was reassigned in November 2007 amid an ethics investigation and the resignations of top prosecutors who objected to her management style. Jones announced this week that he promoted two of those prosecutors who’d been Paulose critics.
“Todd will be an integral part of the Justice Department team we’ve assembled to keep the American people safe, restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference, and reinvigorate our traditional law enforcement missions,” said Holder at the event, according to the news release.
He also attended the swearing in ceremony for Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance last month. Vance succeeded Alice Martin, who came under criticism by Democrats and liberals who charged her prosecuting decisions were partisan.
Holder added that Jones is also the new chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. The AGAC is an influential policy-making and advisory body that serves as the voice of the U.S. Attorneys in Washington.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who recommended Jones to President Obama, lauded the U.S. Attorney further. She said at the ceremony that he is part of a “long tradition of outstanding U.S. Attorneys.”
“Todd brings integrity and independence to a U.S. Attorney’s office already respected for its professionalism,” Klobuchar said at the event, according to the news release. “He understands the role of a prosecutor is to enforce the laws and ensure justice is done, without fear or favor. He’s done that before, and I know he’ll do it again.”
The Minnesota U.S. Attorney said he was honored to serve as U.S. Attorney again.
“The opportunity to serve our country again is one I will always cherish,” Jones said at the event, according to the news release. “The four simple words embedded somewhere on the wall of every federal courthouse in the land – equal justice under law – represent a bedrock principle upon which our great nation will continue to thrive. They are words intended to guide us every day as we represent the people of the United States as members of the Department of Justice.”
Jones officially took office in August, but he did not have a public swearing-in ceremony at the time.
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) tried to stay serious throughout the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. But a slip-up about sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine and crack offenses from the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday left the room in stitches.
“Sen. [Patrick] Leahy and I were talking during these hearings, we’re going to do that crack cocaine thing you and I have talked about before,” said Sessions to President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Wade Henderson during witness testimonies.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) then called on the Alabama senator to restate his statement. He said, laughing, “I misspoke. We’re going to reduce the burden of penalties in some of the crack cocaine cases and make them fair.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in May about revising the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties put in place by Congress in the 1980s. The decades old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine.
The Justice Department has stood in support of efforts to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.
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Justice Department Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder was a man of few words at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. He didn’t have much choice.
His hearing Wednesday morning was postponed because senators had to gather for a ceremonial reading on the Senate floor of charges against impeached Texas U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent. At first, it seemed Schroeder’s hearing would be held another day. Then suddenly, it was back on. But the live Webcast on the Senate Judiciary Committee site wasn’t working. And reporters didn’t have time to make it to the hearing. So we can’t really tell you what happened, other than it appeared to be pretty informal
Schroeder declined to give an opening statement and opted instead to introduce his family, we’ve learned. He then gave brief answers to detailed queries from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on expiring Patriot Act provisions, the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists and fixing the past abuses of the Bush Justice Department. He said he wasn’t familiar enough with the details to give full answers to many of the senators’ questions.
Schroeder, a former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the Clinton administration, will be in charge of judicial nominations and legal policy if confirmed to run the OLP.
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