Entries in Civil Rights (4)


Eric Holder: Gay Marriage Is the Next Civil Rights Issue

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has “evolved” on gay marriage, his administration opposes the federal law against it, and now, Attorney General Eric Holder says it’s the next big civil rights issue.

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, ABC’s Pierre Thomas asked Holder how the Justice Department will approach the U.S. Supreme Court challenge to California’s Prop. 8 marriage ban.

While Holder declined to hint whether his department would take sides by filing a brief in the case, Holder did address gay marriage as an issue.

“From my perspective, this is really the latest civil rights issue,” Holder told ABC News.  “It is the question of whether or not American citizens are going to be treated with equal protection of the laws.  And so with regard to Prop. 8, we’re in the process now of deciding what position we’re gonna take.”

In a February 2011 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Holder announced the administration’s intention to drop its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ban on gay marriage -- a holdover from the last Justice Department, which had similarly sought to uphold the law.

The Justice Department’s move was seen as a victory for gay rights advocates, who had listed overturning DOMA among a handful of top priorities for the Obama administration since the president took office.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Feds: Authorities in Meridian, Miss. Violated Rights of Black Children

File photo. James Woodson/Thinkstock(MERIDIAN, Miss.) -- The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has released investigative findings determining that children in predominantly black Meridian, Miss. have had their constitutional rights violated by the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services (DYS) in what civil rights investigators allege is a school-to-prison pipeline with even dress code violations resulting in incarceration.

The Justice Department has been investigating the agencies since December 2011 and found that the police department arrests children without probable cause, violating the children’s Fourth Amendment protections of unlawful search and seizure.

Also in the findings letter the Civil Rights Division alleges that “Lauderdale County and the Youth Court Judges violate the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments by failing to provide children procedural due process in the youth court.  Lauderdale County, the Youth Court judges, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services violate the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by failing to provide children procedural due process rights in the probationary process.”

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect against abuse of government authority in legal proceedings and fairness of due process rights, respectively.

“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect,” the Justice Department findings letter noted.

Describing the “school-to-prison pipeline” the Justice Department findings letter noted of the alleged abuses by the police, “By policy and practice, [the Meridian Police Department] MPD automatically arrests all students referred to MPD by the District. The children arrested by MPD are then sent to the County juvenile justice system, where existing due process protections are illusory and inadequate. The Youth Court places children on probation, and the terms of the probation set by the Youth Court and DYS require children on probation to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center.”

“The systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.  “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary.”

About 62 percent of Meridian’s population is African-American, and the Justice Department alleges that mostly Africa-American children and children with disabilities are impacted by the unconstitutional policies.

The Justice Department alleged in its findings letter that two Youth Court Judges have consistently denied civil rights investigators access to information about the policies and practices of the Youth Court.

The Civil Rights Division is seeking to negotiate with Meridian officials on the findings and if an agreement is not reached, the Justice Department can sue them.

When contacted by ABC News, the Meridian Police Department declined to comment. ABC News is also awaiting comment from the Mississippi Division of Youth Services, the county court and an attorney representing the city of Meridian.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rosa Parks Estate Looted by Attorneys and Judge, Lawyer Alleges

Angel Franco/New York Times Co./Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A Michigan attorney is alleging that a judge and two lawyers have executed a plan to "raid and bankrupt" the estate of civil rights icon Rosa Parks by draining it of more than half-a-million dollars and holding hostage a treasure trove of memorabilia.

Steven Cohen claimed in court papers filed this week that Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie G. Burton, Jr. and attorneys John Chase, Jr. and Melvin Jefferson, Jr. conspired to drain the estate of more than $500,000 through unnecessary legal fees that have left it "deeply in the red."

At the center of the dispute are more than 8,000 pieces of civil rights memorabilia belonging to Parks including personal letters, photos, papers, books, awards and clothing. The collection is valued at up to $10 million and has been sitting for months in auction limbo in a warehouse belonging to Guernsey's Auctioneers and Brokers of New York.

The collection is supposed to be sold as one lot to a museum or institute that can display all of the items together.

Cohen represents the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, which is "dedicated to the motivation of youth to reach their highest potential in an environment of peace," according to the filing.

Parks became an icon of the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955, an act that earned her the title "Mother of the modern Civil Rights movement."

Before Parks died in 2005, she left almost all of her estate to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute and nominated institute co-founder and longtime friend Elaine Steele to be the trustee along with former judge Adam Shakoor.

Cohen wrote that Judge Burton replaced Steele and Shakoor with "long-time probate cronies" Chase and Jefferson after Parks died.

"This was the beginning of a broad conspiracy among Judge Burton, Chase and Jefferson (the 'Conspirators') to deplete the estate of its assets and unjustly and unlawfully direct these and other assets to the possession, control and ownership of Chase and Jefferson," Cohen wrote in the filing.

Cohen said that Chase and Jefferson charged the estate $595,000 in fees using "double, triple and quadruple billing practices to falsely inflate the administrative and attorney fees."

"It was nothing more than a concerted plan to raid and bankrupt the estate of a revered civil rights icon for improper and selfish financial interests," he wrote.

Alan May, the attorney for Chase and Jefferson, vehemently denies all of the claims.

In a separate filing, Cohen asked that Burton be removed from the case for allegedly conspiring with Chase and Jefferson.

May said he and his clients will "absolutely" be fighting back against the Cohen's claims.

Burton did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

"The overall goal is to have proper administration of the estate," Cohen told "We are looking for Chase and Jefferson and Judge Burton to pay back all of these outrageous attorney fees to the tune of approximately half-a-million dollars in cash. We're looking for that to be returned and we're looking for the artifacts to be returned to our control."

Cohen is also demanding a trial by jury.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Civil Rights Leaders Urge Obama to Resist Deep Cuts to Safety Net Programs

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Leaders of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights groups visited the White House Thursday to urge President Obama to resist budget cuts that would disproportionately impact the most vulnerable Americans.

“We came away from the discussion with a real view that the president understands fundamentally that deep budget cuts to safety net programs and programs that affect the urban community would be counterproductive, not only for our communities, but for the nation at large,” the president of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, told reporters at the White House.

“We cannot balance the budget by making deep cuts in Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security or Pell Grants. We have to preserve those vital structures,” NAACP President Ben Jealous added.

The two said they left their Oval Office meeting with the president confident that Obama understands such cuts would be harmful.

Morial said the president nodded his head in agreement when they told him that “no step should be taken that’s going to cost this nation jobs. No step should be taken that’s going to force vulnerable Americans to pay the cost of a deficit reduction plan.”

Morial and Jealous also shared with the president their ideas for addressing the jobs crisis and the high African-American unemployment rate, which is currently 16.2 percent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio