Durbin: "We Have More Work To Do"
Senator chairs hearing examining the state of civil rights in America; says Congress can?t let up on push for bipartisan reform legislation
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – During his final hearing as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that, though we have come a long way, there is still a problem with racism in America and we have more work to do. Today’s hearing - entitled “The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States” - examined the status of key civil and human rights issues, including criminal justice reform, voting rights, and police-community relations.
As Chairman, Durbin has made an effort to understand the human impact of the issues the Subcommittee debates by hearing directly from the people who are most affected. A video highlighting their testimony can be found at this link.
“Over the last four years, I have tried to give a platform to voices that are not often heard in the halls of Congress and force this Subcommittee to examine what more needs to be done to protect civil and human rights in our country,” said Durbin. “Our responsibility in Congress is to focus on legislation, not lamentation. We have taken, and must continue to take, the words of our witnesses and translate them into action.”
Following enactment of legislation like the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, bipartisan initiatives to protect civil and human rights have continued, including ongoing efforts to reform federal sentencing and restore federal voting rights for ex-offenders. Nonetheless, significant roadblocks remain. Racial disparities persist at many stages of the criminal justice system. Many states have enacted voting laws making it harder for minority and other voters to cast their ballots. And this year’s events in Ferguson, Missouri have highlighted the continued need to reevaluate and reform police practices, including the militarization of state and local law enforcement.
Members of Congress testifying at today’s hearing include: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL-4) and U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN-5). Additional witnesses testifying today include: Dr. Cedric Alexander President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Public Safety Director in DeKalb County, Georgia; Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Laura W. Murphy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office.
Durbin is Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over all constitutional issues, and all legislation and policy related to civil rights, civil liberties and human rights. The Ranking Member of the Subcommittee is Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Video of Durbin’s remarks will be available shortly HERE.
Audio of Durbin’s remarks is available HERE.
Senator Durbin’s Chairmanship and Efforts to Advance Civil Rights and Human Rights
110th Congress (2007-2008): Durbin served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s first subcommittee on human rights. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee, Durbin held the first-ever Congressional hearings on genocide law, child soldiers, crimes against humanity, U.S. human rights enforcement, sexual violence in conflict, and the human rights responsibilities of oil, gas and mining companies.
While Chairman, he authored landmark human rights legislation that was enacted into law, including the Genocide Accountability Act, which makes it a crime to commit genocide anywhere in the world; the Child Soldiers Accountability Act, which makes it a crime and violation of immigration law to recruit or use child soldiers; and the Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act, which makes it a crime to engage in human trafficking anywhere in the world. Durbin also worked across the aisle with U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) - Ranking Member of the Subcommittee - to pass four laws that give the government more power to prosecute human rights abusers. In 2012, the Obama Administration used this authority to deport Liberian warlord George Boley for using child soldiers.
111th Congress (2009-2010): Durbin was named the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Drugs Subcommittee. After hearing the powerful testimony of Cedric Parker in 2009, Durbin worked with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and other members of the full Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which significantly reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and repealed a mandatory minimum sentence for the first time since the Nixon Administration.
112th Congress (2011 - 2012): Durbin was named Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which was formed by merging the Constitution Subcommittee and the Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee, which he had previously chaired. After Durbin held the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement in June 2012 – where Anthony Graves, the 12th death row inmate in Texas to be exonerated, testified – the federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to Durbin’s request to submit to the first independent assessment of its solitary confinement policies and practices.
Following the brave testimony of Harpreet Singh Saini at a 2012 hearing on hate crimes and the threat of domestic extremism after the mass shooting by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Durbin successfully pushed the Justice Department to begin tracking hate crimes against Sikh Americans, Arab Americans, and Hindu Americans.
113th Congress (2013 - 2014): Durbin was renamed Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Following testimony in 2013 by Sybrina Fulton - mother of Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was shot and killed while walking through a residential neighborhood in Sanford, Florida - Durbin called for state “stand your ground” laws to be carefully reconsidered.
Durbin worked across the aisle with U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) on the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, which will modernize federal drug sentencing polices by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of non-violent offenses. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2014. In a second hearing on solitary confinement, which he convened in February 2014, Durbin called for an end to the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and those with serious and persistent mental illness.
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