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U.S. House Votes Show Acceptance of Racial Profiling of Latinos, Minorities

Chris Rickerd,
Senior Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
Joanne Lin,
Senior Legislative Counsel,
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May 10, 2012

The House of Representatives told us on Wednesday thatthe majority of members are okay with state-sanctioned racial profiling of Latinos.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) slipped in an amendment to the FY2013 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill that would prohibit the Department of Justice from originating or joining any legal challenge to nine specified state anti-immigrant laws, many of which are racial profiling laws in thin disguise. These include laws passed by Arizona, Alabama, Utah and South Carolina, where DOJ already has pending litigation, including at the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as Georgia and Indiana laws which the ACLU has challenged in court. Missouri and Oklahoma, where two omnibus anti-immigrant laws have been in effect for several years, are also included. While the Black Amendment doesn’t affect pending DOJ litigation, the amendment would handcuff DOJ from making future litigation choices consistent with the executive branch’s responsibility to uphold the Constitution.

The final vote on Rep. Black’s Amendment was 238 ayes; 173 noes, with 226 Republicans in favor of the amendment, and 167 Democrats against.

Later on Wednesday, a majority of the House voted against an innocuous amendment by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), which simply stated as a legislative reminder that DOJ funds, including grants to state and local police, should not be used in contravention of long-established racial profiling protections. These include the Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other statutory prohibitions on discrimination and unlawful police pattern or practice activity. This amendment would have been a baby step toward tackling the epidemic of racial profiling – it contains none of the more robust protections in the proposed End Racial Profiling Act.

The final vote on Rep. Holt’s amendment was 193 ayes; 232 noes, with 224 Republicans against the amendment and 177 Democrats in support.

These votes can only mean one thing: a majority ofHouse members don’t see the need for DOJ to take racial profiling seriously.

Ironically, the Housetook these damaging votesthe day before DOJ did something it has done only once before in the Department’s 18-year history of civil police reform work. Today DOJ filed a contested suit against Maricopa County, Arizona, to stop discriminatory and unconstitutional law enforcement practices targeting Latinos. After nearly four years of trying to forge solutions, DOJ had no choice but to sue Maricopa County to ensure that “the necessary policies, practices and oversight are in place so that Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Arpaio comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States,” said Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at a press conference in Phoenix on May 10th.

Perez continued, “Law enforcement agencies cannot cut constitutional corners in the pursuit of their objectives, and the complaint alleges that from at least 2006 to the present, MCSO officers have unlawfully discriminated against Latinos and violated their constitutional rights in a number of ways, including racial profiling of Latinos in traffic stop settings; unlawful detention, searches and arrests of Latino drivers and passengers; and unlawful targeting and illegal detention of Latinos during home and worksite raids.…If you looked Latino, you were all too frequently fair game for MCSO officers.”

The DOJ’s filing of this lawsuit proves the department takes its role in stopping rampant racial profiling seriously. Congress should support the DOJ’s role in protecting the constitutional rights of those subjected racial profiling, not tie the department’s hands as the House has with the Black amendment.

It is now up to the Senate to ensure that the Black amendment doesn’t become law. And both houses should pass the End Racial Profiling Act, legislation sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers, (D-Mich.) which would, among other things, provide training to help police avoid responses based on stereotypes and unreliable assumptions about minorities.

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