Civil rights lawyers applaud attorney general

Press release from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights:

“Lawyers’ Committee Commends Attorney General Holder’s Historic
Call for Change in Justice Department’s Policies on Nonviolent Drug Offenders

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 12, 2013 – Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine issues the following statement:

“We applaud Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s historic and game-changing announcement today that the Justice Department will no longer seek severe mandatory sentences for low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations. This common-sense, instrumental approach to drug enforcement and criminal justice is an important step toward addressing unconscionable racial disparities in the federal justice system.

The Lawyers’ Committee has long held that mandatory minimum sentences are not only unfair in stature and consequence, they represent a serious threat to the civil rights gains and progress of the 1960s and 70s.  These sentences are counterproductive and create a long-term adverse cycle of negative reinforcement, have disastrous effects on housing, employment and education, and tear apart families and communities – while doing little or nothing to make us safer.
As Attorney General Holder said during his speech today before the American Bar Association, ‘We also must confront the reality that – once they’re in that system – people of color often face harsher punishments than their peers.  One deeply troubling report, released in February, indicates that – in recent years – black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes.  This isn’t just unacceptable – it is shameful.  It’s unworthy of our great country, and our great legal tradition.’  We are pleased to hear that in response, he has directed a group of U.S. Attorneys to examine sentencing disparities, and to develop recommendations on how to address them.   We also commend the Attorney General for addressing the school to prison pipeline and the need to remove elderly and infirmed persons from the prison system.

We recognize that, while it is possible for the Justice Department to act directly to implement parts of this new policy, other initiatives will require Congressional action.  The Lawyers’ Committee continues to urge passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 which would amend the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, allowing retroactivity for current drug offenses; reduce the severity of mandatory minimum penalties; and require the U.S. Sentencing Commission to amend federal sentencing guidelines in keeping with its mandate to consider federal prison capacity.

The elimination of mandatory minimum sentences in cases of nonviolent offenses is critical in the fight for racial justice.  The Lawyers’ Committee therefore stands fully behind the Attorney General’s efforts to reduce racial disparities and unfairness in the federal criminal justice system.”

About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2013 as we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending; community development; employment; voting; education and environmental justice.  For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit

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