Remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder (as Prepared)
to The Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Conference
Washington, D.C., May 4, 2010
Posted: May 4, 2010
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you Robert Sugarman (ADL National Chair) for your kind words and your outstanding leadership. Your commitment to the Anti-Defamation League, a commitment which has spanned four decades, inspires us all.
I also want to thank you, Abraham Foxman (ADL National Director) for your extraordinary contributions to this organization – and to our country. You lived through World War II in Poland – and endured forced migration into a ghetto. And when you came to the United States, you transcended – though never forgot – the hate you witnessed as a child. From this experience, you’ve worked to make our country a better place. And you’ve succeeded. All of us are deeply grateful for your decades of service.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for joining me this afternoon. It’s good to be among so many friends. I have known, and had the privilege of working with, many of you for years – and some of you for decades. In the early nineties, when I served as D.C.’s U.S. Attorney, I first began convening meetings with your members like Jess Hordes. And I continued to work with many of you during my tenure as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration.
I was struck then, and am impressed now, by your determination to steer our nation toward fair treatment for all – despite unprecedented challenges and stubborn resistance. I am now, and always have been, proud to count you as allies in our shared work to achieve and to ensure justice for all Americans, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, background, gender, or creed.
So above all, today, let me express my gratitude, on behalf of the Department of Justice, for the work you do for all of us. You started – nearly a century ago – with just $200, two desks in a cramped Chicago office, and one idealistic charter that promised “to stop…defamation… and secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens.” But look at you now. Just look around.
You began by calling out bigots and by calling for the elimination of religious stereotypes in mainstream newspapers. But before long, you were infiltrating and weakening the Ku Klux Klan, “cracking the quotas” at our premier colleges, helping to pass the seminal civil rights legislation of the 1960s, and, quite literally, making “A World of Difference” – as the program is still called – in classrooms across America by teaching our children the value of tolerance and the danger of bias.
All this, of course, is only a snapshot of your many achievements. The ADL has been indispensible in helping to ensure the civil rights – and personal safety – of all people. Every American, including me, is in your debt. The work you do summons what Abraham Lincoln once called, in his first inaugural address, “the better angels of our nature.” It calls forth our common humanity. And it brings out our best selves.
Today, I want to applaud you for the most recent example of your work – and our partnership – at its best. And I would like to update you on where this Administration stands on questions of law and policy that I know are among your top concerns.
You all deserve credit – and should take pride – in the fact that, last fall, Congress passed the most significant civil rights legislation to be enacted in decades. Now, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act may seem like common sense. But it’s easy to forget that it was more than a decade ago – 10 years – that I testified in the Senate in support of new hate crimes legislation that many of you were working tirelessly to move forward. Of course, we did make some progress. And I’m especially grateful to David Friedman, who is here today, for collaborating with me in the late nineties to set up the first hate crime working group, which became a model across the country. This was an important, and much-needed, start. And it provided a foundation for the progress we celebrate today.
Finally, we have reached a moment in history where the words “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” appear in the U.S. Code, where gender- and disability-motivated crimes can be investigated with the full resources of the federal government, and where we can prosecute hateful acts of violence wherever and however they occur. It wasn’t easy to get here. But your hard work and persistence helped to ensure that we finally did.
And, while we have good cause for celebration, this is no time to become complacent. Yes, it may be tempting – when you look at the diversity of the people walking the halls of Congress or at the men sitting in the Oval Office and the Chief of Staff’s Office next door – to think that equal justice has been achieved for all Americans, or that equal opportunity is inherent, or that we’ve moved beyond our history of prejudice. It will take more than the election of the first African-American President, though, more than the selection of a Jewish White House chief of staff – and certainly more than the appointment of the first African-American Attorney General – to fully secure the promises of equality and justice and to finally conform our present reality to our founding principles.
This is especially true, and clear, when it comes to hate crimes. Today, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest count, there are 932 known hate groups operating across our country. In the last decade, the number of hate groups has increased by more than 50 percent. Each year, approximately 7,500 hate crimes are committed across our country. That’s nearly one hate crime every hour of every day. And that’s unacceptable.
All of you have seen these numbers manifested in the most horrific ways – last year’s shooting at our nation’s Holocaust Museum; the attempted bombing of synagogues in the Bronx; and, a year ago this week, the murder of a Wesleyan University student, who may have been targeted, and killed, because of her Jewish faith.
These examples, like far too many others, serve as most tragic reminders that the world has yet to run its course of bigotry and cruelty. And they remind us that our continued vigilance against hatred is essential.
For this Administration – and for today’s Department of Justice – the prosecution of hate crimes is a top priority. We are employing the new tools afforded to us by the Shepard Act to combat hate-fueled crimes around the nation. Already, we have several investigations open under the new law. And we are working to train attorneys and members of law enforcement in its aggressive enforcement.
In the last fiscal year, the Justice Department indicted more hate crime defendants than any year since 1996; convicted more hate crime defendants than any year since 2000; and filed more hate crime cases than any year since 2001. Just two weeks ago today, a father-son team and a conspirator were sentenced – one to 156 months in prison – for terrorizing an African-American man with a chainsaw outside a grocery store in South Carolina. When it comes to combating such crimes, the Department’s message is simple: If you engage in violence fueled by bigotry, no matter the object or nature of your hate, we will bring you to justice.
As the statistics prove, these crimes are often more than isolated incidents of hate-inspired rage. They can also result from the organized efforts of extremist groups that want to terrorize their fellow Americans. For years, and often at great personal risk, ADL members have collaborated with law enforcement to prevent these extremist groups from doing harm. I applaud you for your engagement, during investigations and prosecutions, and I hope you will continue our important partnership.
Now, there is one extremist group whose dose of justice is not yet complete – the Nazi party. For more than three decades, our Office of Special Investigations, often in consultation with the ADL, has been pursuing justice for Holocaust victims. Under the leadership of Eli Rosenbaum, OSI has achieved remarkable success. In fact, the office has won more court cases against Nazi criminals than the governments of all other countries of the world combined. And, several weeks ago, the Department fused OSI with our Domestic Security Section to form a new Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. By bringing together these signature – and highly successful – law enforcement units under one roof, we will be able to achieve even more on behalf of victims and expand our efforts to prevent human rights violations.
I’m also pleased to report that the reinvigoration of the Department’s civil rights commitment extends far beyond hate crimes. Today, our Civil Rights Division is working around the clock to protect the religious freedom of all Americans, to hold law enforcement accountable for discriminatory practices and misconduct, and to protect the rights of disabled and institutionalized persons, among many other priorities.
In addition to prosecutions, we’re also focused on prevention. As your work demonstrates, without strategies for intervention, education, and empowerment, we simply cannot eradicate hate in our communities. We need programs that teach tolerance and encourage communities to address bigotry before it fuels violence. And we must promote laws that close, rather than widen and enhance, the gulf between law enforcement and the people they protect. That’s why the Department is working with agencies across the federal government, and with Congress, to support comprehensive immigration reform in a way that “keeps faith,” as President Obama has said, “with our heritage as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.”
Our commitment to preserving that heritage is one reason why we are so concerned about the immigration law recently passed in Arizona. It is clear that a failure to act on the federal level is resulting in state policies that undermine our most cherished values and, quite frankly, our safety.
I have serious concerns about the law and its effect on the people of Arizona, citizens and noncitizens alike. I know that, over the past few days, many of you have been encouraging your elected officials to reform our flawed immigration system – and I commend you for this work. Quite simply, our immigration system must be fixed.
Of course immigration is not the only challenge and concern we share. Late last year, the Pew Center for Research published a study in which nearly six in ten adults said that Muslims are subject to widespread discrimination. ADL has frequently called attention to the dramatic rise in hate crimes aimed at Muslim and Arab Americans since September 11th. You have raised awareness about the alienation that some Muslim and Arab Americans feel from their government and fellow citizens. And, today, I want to ask you to recommit yourselves to your century-old mission to free all Americans, regardless of faith, from the bonds of bigotry. On behalf of the Justice Department, let me say that I don’t simply appreciate your work and your help in this effort, I rely on it.
Now, I realize that you have come to Washington for many reasons – and with many concerns. You are here to ask lawmakers to reaffirm the enduring moral and strategic alliance between the United States and Israel. You are here to promote the cause of religious freedom and the prosecution of hate crimes. You are here to advocate for immigration reform. You are here to learn, to discuss and to re-imagine our future.
But whatever brings you here, above all, I’m certain everyone in this room shares one unbreakable bond: a burning need to fulfill the mission Sigmund Livingston set forth nearly one hundred years ago “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.”
With your continued support, continued guidance, and continued strength, I’m certain that, together, we can confront and overcome persisting threats to Jews, to all of your fellow citizens, and to all innocent people.
I’m proud to count you all as partners – and more proud to call each of you a friend.