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Attorney General Eric Holder: Dept. of Justice Will Ask SCOTUS To 'Make Marriage Equality A Reality For All Americans'

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Attorney General Eric Holder, hot on the heels of news from the Supreme Court today that it will hear four challenges to same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, announced that the Department of Justice will file an amicus brief with the Court asking the justices to recognize marriage equality as the law of the land:

“After the Justice Department's decision not to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court sent a powerful message that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law.  This landmark decision marked a historic step toward equality for all American families.

“The Supreme Court has announced that it will soon hear several cases raising core questions concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriages.  As these cases proceed, the Department of Justice will remain committed to ensuring that the benefits of marriage are available as broadly as possible.  And we will keep striving to secure equal treatment for all members of society—regardless of sexual orientation.

“As such, we expect to file a ‘friend of the court’ brief in these cases that will urge the Supreme Court to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans.  It is time for our nation to take another critical step forward to ensure the fundamental equality of all Americans—no matter who they are, where they come from, or whom they love.”

In case you missed it, check out our legal editor Ari Ezra Waldman's analysis of today's news from the Supreme Court. And in case you're wondering what happens should we lose the cases before the Court, Lambda Legal has spelled out what could happen HERE.


Justice Department Will Now Back Claims Of Anti-Trans Discrimination Under Title VII

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Speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice yesterday, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder clarified the department’s new official position on anti-trans discrimination being encompassed within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Previously the department refused to recognize discrimination against transgender individuals as as a form of bias based upon sex, which Title VII forbids. The department’s opinion of what constitutes sex-based discrimination, Holder explained, will now encompass gender identity.

“This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Holder elaborated. “This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants. And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

The Department of Justice has virtually stopped challenging discrimination claims filed by federal transgender employees under Title VII. Holder, however, made a point of detailing the department’s rather recent history of being uncooperative in its handling of those claims it did receive. Going forward, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will be able to file claims under Title VII against both state and local employers accused of anti-trans discrimination.

NCLR responds:

“We applaud Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice for taking this principled stand to ensure that all Americans benefit from the protections of our nation’s anti-discrimination laws,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter. “This is a huge step forward for transgender litigants and will have an extremely positive impact in cases involving discrimination against transgender employees. The Department of Justice has placed the full weight of its authority as our nation’s lawyers behind the principled position that transgender people are fully protected under Title VII and other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination." 

Back in April, the U.S. Department of Education issued a similar guidance clarifying that Title IX law protects transgender students from discrimination. 


Federal Law Enforcement to Adopt Stricter Polices on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Profiling

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today the Department of Justice will begin taking steps to bar profiling by federal law enforcement agencies in regards to national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, and sexual orientation. 

Via DoJ statement:

In announcing the new policy, the Attorney General said that biased law enforcement practices not only perpetuate negative stereotypes and promote mistrust of law enforcement, but also are counterproductive to the goal of good policing.

"As Attorney General, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective,” Attorney General Holder said. “Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level, and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process, it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices.”

The Attorney General added: “With this new guidance, we take a major and important step forward to ensure effective policing by federal law enforcement officials and state and local law enforcement participating in federal task forces throughout the nation. This Guidance codifies important new protections for those who come into contact with federal law enforcement agents. And it brings enhanced training, oversight, and accountability to federal law enforcement across the country, so that isolated acts of discrimination do not tarnish the exemplary work that’s performed by the overwhelming majority of America’s hard-working law enforcement officials each and every day."

The new policy, which is spelled out in a memorandum circulated Monday, instructs that, in making routine or spontaneous law enforcement decisions, officers may not use race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity to any degree, unless listed characteristics apply to a suspect description. Under the policy, federal law enforcement officers will be prohibited from acting on the belief that possession of a listed characteristic by itself signals a higher risk of criminality. 

The news joins the DoJ's newly announced limits on racial profiling in response to the continued nationwide protests in the Eric Gardner case. 


Obama, Holder, and De Blasio React to Grand Jury Decision in Eric Garner Case: VIDEOS

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Attorney General Eric Holder said this evening that the U.S. Department of Justice will open a federal civil rights investigation into the Eric Garner case after a  Staten Island grand jury voted to bring no criminal charges against a white police officer who placed Garner, a black man, in an illegal chokehold which killed him in July.

Said Holder:

"All lives must be valued. All lives. Mr. Garner's death is one of several recent incidents across our great country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and to protect. This is not a New York issue nor a Ferguson issue alone. Those who have protested peacefully across our great country following the grand jury's decision in Ferguson have made that very clear."

President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio reacted swiftly to the news of the grand jury's decision.

De Blasio became emotional during the press conference, telling reporters that he had to warn his own son about police officers that may not be out to protect him.

Said De Blasio:

"This is profoundly personal to me. I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens....And I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we've had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him."

Said Obama in a separate statement:  

"We are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement."

Watch Holder, Obama, and De Blasio speak, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Obama, Holder, and De Blasio React to Grand Jury Decision in Eric Garner Case: VIDEOS" »


Eric Holder Announces Federal Government Will Recognize Gay Marriages in Six More States

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the federal government will recognize same-sex married couples in six additional states: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Last week, Holder made a similar announcement regarding federal recognition of same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado. 

Via press release:

The Attorney General’s announcement means couples married in these states will now qualify for a range of federal benefits, including those administered by the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs.

“With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving of full equality for all Americans,” the Attorney General said. “We are acting as quickly as possible with agencies throughout the government to ensure that same-sex married couples in these states receive the fullest array of benefits allowable under federal law.”

In addition, the Attorney General also announced that the Department of Justice has determined it can legally recognize marriages performed in Indiana and Wisconsin this past June. These marriages were performed immediately after federal district courts ruled that those states’ bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, but subsequent developments created confusion about the status of those marriages. Based on the Attorney General’s announcement, however, those couples married during that period will now have their unions recognized by the federal government.


Eric Holder Announces Federal Government Will Recognize Gay Marriage in Seven New States: VIDEO

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Responding to the Supreme Court's marriage decision last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the federal government will begin recognizing same-sex marriages taking place in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Idaho - with additional states likely to follow.

Said Holder:

“I am pleased to announce that the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages now taking place in the affected states, and I have directed lawyers here at the Department of Justice to work with our colleagues at agencies across the Administration to ensure that all applicable federal benefits are extended to those couples as soon as possible.  We will not delay in fulfilling our responsibility to afford every eligible couple, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, the full rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled.

He continued:

The steady progress toward LGBT equality we’ve seen – and celebrated – is important and historic.  But there remain too many places in this country where men and women cannot visit their partners in the hospital, or be recognized as the rightful parents of their own adopted children; where people can be discriminated against just because they are gay.  Challenges to marriage restrictions are still being actively litigated in courts across the country.  And while federal appeals courts have so far been unanimous in finding that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, if a disagreement does arise, the Supreme Court may address the question head-on.  If that happens, the Justice Department is prepared to file a brief consistent with its past support for marriage equality. 

Watch Holder's full remarks HERE.

In addition to the seven states above, marriage equality has also come to West Virginia, North Carolina, and Arizona (announced earlier today).

Gay marriage began in Alaska but has since been put on hold while the state appeals a pro-equality ruling to the Supreme Court (expect marriages to resume later today)

A federal court ruling in the challenge to Wyoming's gay marriage ban is expected Monday, with Governor Matt Mead saying the state will respect whatever decision is made.


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