Bracing for an adversarial relationship with President-elect Donald Trump, the California Legislature has selected former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to serve as outside counsel to advise the state’s legal strategy against the incoming administration.
The unusual arrangement will give Holder, leading a team of attorneys from the firm Covington & Burling, a broad portfolio covering potential conflicts between California and the federal government. “He will be our lead litigator, and he will have a legal team of expert lawyers on the issues of climate change, women and civil rights, the environment, immigration, voting rights — to name just a few,” Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in an interview.
Such a task typically falls to the state attorney general. On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown formally nominated Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra to replace former Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who now serves in the U.S. Senate. Becerra, whose nomination hearings in the Legislature begin next week, is expected to be easily confirmed.
But De León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon began contemplating hiring outside legal counsel for the Legislature almost immediately after Trump’s election, in hopes of protecting existing state policies that are at odds with the president-elect’s stated positions.
Earlier this year, home-rental site Airbnb came under heavy scrutiny after black users of the platform took to social media to describe the discrimination they faced. Most noted that after renters saw their photos, which were included in the booking request, they were denied accommodations. The hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack popped up on Twitter and went viral. The company needed to do some serious soul-searching.
“Our mission is to allow people to belong anywhere … and that this issue, the issue of racial bias [or] discrimination on the platform, was a big problem and antithetical to our actual mission,” Christopher Lehane, head of global policy and public affairs for Airbnb, told The Root. “We needed to address this, but to be able to address it, we needed to understand it, consult with the experts [and] listen to people who’ve been on the front line for decades to help us … understand what the challenge was and then, from there, what we can do.”
That aha moment led the company to tap powerhouses such as formerU.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, along with Laura W. Murphy—former director of the ACLU Legislative Office, who currently serves as a senior adviser to Airbnb—launched a review into the company’s practices with the intention of confronting and dealing with explicit and implicit discrimination and bias.
“What Airbnb made clear from the beginning is that they didn’t want to simply follow the law … but to do that which would exceed what was legally required,” Holder told The Root. “Change comes when you have tough, honest conversations, which I think Airbnb has done; when you have genuine self-reflection, which I think they have engaged in; and when you come up with proposals for bold action.”
Holder, along with civil rights attorney John Relman and Airbnb staffers, spoke with civil rights leaders for input and ideas about policy changes to address the problems and also to position the company to deal with any future grievances.
“The first time I spoke to the executives at Airbnb, there was a palpable demonstration to be willing to have these uncomfortable but absolutely necessary conversations about how these issues arose … and I thought they were interested in solving the problem and not just responding to public criticism,” Holder said.
On Thursday the company is releasing a report detailing its findings and how it plans to remedy the issues that the victims of discrimination have faced. In doing so, Airbnb acknowledges its own lack of workforce diversity, saying that it plans to create a “new comprehensive plan to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.” According to the report, some 9.64 percent of all its U.S.-based employees come from underrepresented communities. The company hopes to increase that number to 11 percent by the end of 2017.
Part of that plan includes implementing the “Diversity Rule,” which mandates that all vacant senior positions at the company include candidates from underrepresented backgrounds before any hiring is permitted to go forward.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has announced that Eric Holder is set to join the organization’s National Board of Directors.
Appointed by President Obama in 2009, Holder was the first black attorney general of the United States. During his tenure under the Obama administration, Holder prioritized voting rights and criminal justice reform.
Holder’s connections to the Legal Defense Fund run deep. The former attorney general interned for the LDF in 1974 after his first year at Columbia Law. Last year, Holder received the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award, which the LDF calls its “highest honor.”
Current LDF President, Sherrilyn Ifill, has spoken highly of Holder. “I have been unequivocal in my admiration for Mr. Holder’s leadership. He presided over the restoration of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, launched the groundbreaking criminal justice reforms of President Obama, and confronted the challenges in Ferguson, Missouri, with tremendous sensitivity during a volatile time in our nation,” Ifill said.
In a statement announcing his appointment, the LDF praised Holder for his ‘Smart on Crime’ initiative, which called for “major changes to drug sentencing, the release of elderly prisoners and a decreased length of non-violent crime sentences, were bold measures that will continue to have a major impact on African American communities and are emblematic of LDF’s vision of justice.”
Muhammad Ali, former attorney general Eric Holder, Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Ariel Investments president and DreamWorks Animation SKG board chairman Mellody Hobson, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, rapper Nasir “Nas” Jones, and artist Carrie Mae Weems were honored with the 2015 W.E.B. Du Bois Medals at Harvard in September of this year.
Awarded since 2000, the Du Bois Medal is Harvard’s highest honor in the field of African and African American Studies. It is awarded to individuals in the U.S. and across the globe in recognition of their contributions to African American culture and the life of the mind.
The Hutchins Center for African & African American Research hosted the celebration at Sanders Theatre. Ali picked up the honor earlier in September, but a video of his presentation played during the ceremony. Last year’s honorees included Shonda Rhimes, Maya Angelou, and Harvey Weinstein.
article by Meredith Goldsteinvia bostonglobe.com; additions by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Loretta Lynch was confirmed Thursday as attorney general, the first black woman in American history to hold the country’s top law enforcement post.
The Senate approved Lynch, a federal prosecutor from New York, on a 56-43 vote after an unusually lengthy confirmation delay. President Barack Obama nominated Lynch as the successor to Eric Holder in November.
Lynch’s path to becoming the first African American woman to serve as attorney general was fraught with partisan bickering — fighting that continued on Thursday. Obama said the Justice Department would benefit from Lynch’s experience as a “a tough, independent, and well-respected prosecutor.”
“Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy,” the president said in a statement on Thursday. “As head of the Justice Department, she will oversee a vast portfolio of cases, including counterterrorism and voting rights; public corruption and white-collar crime; judicial recommendations and policy reviews – all of which matter to the lives of every American, and shape the story of our country.”
Holder said he was pleased the Senate recognized “her clear qualifications.”
“I have known and worked closely with Loretta for many years, and I know that she will continue the vital work that this Administration has set in motion and leave her own innovative mark on the Department in which we have both been privileged to serve,” Holder said in a statement. “I am confident that Loretta will be an outstanding Attorney General, a dedicated guardian of the Constitution, and a devoted champion of all those whom the law protects and empowers.”
Attorney General Eric Holder (pictured) announced on Monday a $124 million hiring grant in the latest of the Justice Department’s goal to improve the quality of police forces nationwide. Alongside Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Director Ron Davis, the pair enacted the grant in support of strengthening community policing.The grant will fund around 950 officers at 215 law enforcement agencies across the nation. The grant money is especially focused on three key areas: increasing community policing; bolstering crime reduction; and increasing public safety.
Both Holder and Davis issued statements regarding the grant, detailing the finer points and emphasizing its grand goal of supporting officers already in place in these communities as well as new hires by way of securing salary and crime reduction efforts.
From Attorney General Holder:
“These targeted investments will help to address acute needs – such as high rates of violent crime – funding 75 percent of the salary and benefits of every newly-hired or re-hired officer for three full years,” said Attorney General Holder. “The impact of this critical support will extend far beyond the creation and preservation of law enforcement jobs. It will strengthen relationships between these officers and the communities they serve, improve public safety and keep law enforcement officers on the beat.”
From Director Davis:
“The COPS Office is pleased to assist local law enforcement agencies throughout the country in addressing their most critical public safety issues,” said Director Davis. “Funding from this year’s program will allow many cities and counties to focus newly sworn personnel on issues related to violent crime, property crime and school safety.”
Referred to as the COPS Hiring Program, the grants will be awarded to state, local, and also tribal law enforcement agencies to hire or rehire from within the communities they serve. As explained by Holder, up to 75 percent of the entry-level salaries and basic benefits of full-time officers will be funded over a period of 36 months. The local agencies must match a minimum of 25 percent local funds with the federal maximum of funding capped at $125,000 per officer.
Grant award recipients for the 2014 portion of the program were selected for plans they submitted regarding strategies, exhibiting a financial need, and the rates of violent crimes in their communities.
COPS has provided funds to more than 125,000 officers serving 13,000 national agencies to date. It has also funded several organizations over the years with more than 700,000 people receiving training via its programs. Those individuals include government leaders, community organizers, and police officials among others. The COPS program is in its 20th year, providing more than $14 billion in hiring efforts among national agencies.
First Lady Michelle Obama spent Friday, January 17th – her actual birthday – out of sight, with no public appearances, except the tweet of a photo of herself holding up her AARP card. She tweeted, quote, “Excited to join Barack” in the 50-plus club today . “check out my @AARP card!”
But last night, January 18th, Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder rocked the White House at a star-studded, late-night dance party celebrating Obama’s 50th, two guests told the Chicago Tribune today. President Barack Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha joined family friends, elected officials, entertainers, athletes, business executives and big donors at the gala, which kicked off Saturday and lasted until the wee hours Sunday morning, the sources said.
The event was closed to the press, and the White House did not release a guest list or any other details. But two guests spoke to the Tribune on condition of anonymity, describing a bash at which a deejay kept people on the dance floor in the East Room until after 3 a.m. Washington time. VIP guests, according to sources, included political luminaries Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, national security adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Democratic National Committee official Donna Brazile.
Other high-profile guests included Sir Paul McCartney, Magic Johnson, Chicago-born actress/singer Jennifer Hudson, singer Janelle Monae, actor Kal Penn, TV personality Al Roker, actress Ashley Judd, tennis great Billie Jean King, retired Olympic figure-skater Michelle Kwan and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the sources said.
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Thursday that the Justice Department would ask a court to require Texas to get permission from the federal government before making voting changes in that state. The move opens a new chapter in the political struggle over election rules after the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act last month. His statements come as states across the South, from Texas to North Carolina, have been rushing to enforce or enact new restrictions on voting eligibility after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last,” Mr. Holder said. “Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to subject states to preclearance as necessary. My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against such discrimination wherever it is found.”
The move relies on a part of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court left untouched in the Shelby County case. The court struck down the coverage formula in Section 4 of the law, which had subjected Texas and eight other mostly Southern states to federal oversight based on 40-year-old data. The court suggested that Congress remained free to enact a new coverage formula based on contemporary data, but most analysts say that is unlikely.
Striking down the law’s coverage formula effectively guts Section 5 of the law, which requires permission from federal authorities before covered jurisdictions may change voting procedures. The move by the Justice Department on Thursday relies on a different part of the law, Section 3, which allows the federal government to get to largely the same place by a different route, called “bail-in.” If the department can show that given jurisdictions have committed constitutional violations, federal courts may impose federal oversight on those places in piecemeal fashion.
State officials have celebrated the Shelby County ruling as lifting an obsolete relic of the civil rights era that unfairly treated their states differently from other parts of the country, while civil rights advocates have lamented it as removing a safeguard that is still necessary. Lawyers for minority groups have already asked a court in Texas to return the state to federal oversight. The Justice Department’s action — filing a “statement of interest” in that case — will bring the weight of the federal government behind those efforts.
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department says it is looking into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors should file criminal civil rights charges now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case. The department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.
In a statement Sunday, the Justice Department said the criminal section of the civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial. The statement said that, in the government’s words, “experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation.”
President Barack Obama (C), joined by Vice President Joseph Biden (L), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (3rd L), Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID) (4th L), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (5th L), House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (5th R), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) (4th R), women’s organizations members, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act into law at the Department of the Interior March 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. The law expands protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama signed a law Thursday expanding protections for victims of domestic violence, renewing a measure credited with curbing violence against women a year and a half after it lapsed amid partisan bickering. The revitalized Violence Against Women Act marked an important win for gay rights advocates and Native Americans, who will see new protections under the law, and for Obama, whose attempts to push for a renewal failed last year after they became entangled in gender politics and the presidential election.
“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory,” Obama said. “This victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.” As Obama prepared to put his pen to the new law, new government data underscored both the progress that has been made and the enduring need to do more.