Biden ought to revive the U.S. Fee on Civil Rights

A new president comes into office with the sense of opportunity that comes with a new dawn. This is especially true of Joe Biden, who takes office after the unrest in Donald Trump’s tenure.

Biden inherits truly terrifying problems – including the pandemic, the collapsing economy, corrosive inequality, catastrophic climate change, and entrenched structural racism. He stood up for Black Lives Matter and has promised a new civil rights day, with a special focus on police reform.

America’s institutionalized racism goes well beyond the police, of course. We have seen the proliferation of brazen voter repression programs since the Supreme Court overturned the voting rights law. Our public schools are becoming increasingly separated and unequal. Blacks and Latinos have suffered disproportionately from the economic collapse associated with the pandemic and from the pandemic itself. Racial disparities in terms of housing, health care, wealth and more are growing. And now that America is becoming more diverse, discrimination against other minorities, from Latinos to Native Americans, requires redress.

Biden will no doubt appoint an attorney general who is sensitive to these concerns. Civil rights departments are being revitalized and recharged across the government. Measures on the right to vote, the reduction of mass detention and police reform will follow. As part of this renewed commitment, Biden should consider taking steps to revitalize and empower the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, preferably with new leadership, new authority, and adequate staff to fulfill the vital role of overseeing civil rights advancement against abuses investigate and recommend remedial action.

The US Commission was established under Republican President Dwight D Eisenhower in the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Its mission was “to continuously evaluate the status of civil rights and the efficiency of the machines with which we want to improve that status”. It has been tasked with collecting data, holding hearings, providing a clearing house, and coordinating government and private agencies working in the area of ​​civil rights. It would issue regular reports and make recommendations on how to remedy civil rights violations.

In the early years, the Commission played an important role. Its distinguished members helped develop the case and formulated the reforms that informed, among other things, the early civil rights laws, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan attempted to weaken the commission and reduce staff and resources. After illegally attempting to fire three of the commissioners, Reagan forced a compromise that gave eight commissioners a staggered six-year term, with half appointed by the President, two by the Speaker of the House and two by the President pro tempore of the Senate . Since then, the commission has declined in stature and effectiveness.

Biden should try to revive the commission. He should appoint a new director of national importance and provide the necessary resources to rebuild the staff and functions of the Commission. He should look for new laws to give the president the power to appoint the commissioners and give them more authority.

An active commission could help advance the research and reforms that are vital to the fight against civil and human rights in this country. There could be a review of how civil rights legislation should be updated to meet the challenges of a much more diverse country. It could hold voter suppression and wandering hearings – and revitalizing the suffrage law – to alert the public to a growing problem. It could examine the challenge of reforming police forces into effective public safety institutions.

What is clear is that no department or government office can make these efforts. Everyone has their own area of ​​authority and concern. The inter-agency effort is cumbersome and rarely effective. Indeed, an independent commission could do the job Eisenhower intended to do – provide a central oversight point for the broad spectrum of civil rights issues and help define the next generation of reforms.

As the new president selects the officials who will work to deliver on his civil rights reform and criminal justice reform pledges and formulates his first package of administrative and legislative measures, it would be wise to resurrect the U.S. Civil Rights Commission as a a central element of this agenda.

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