Tuesday, June 19, 2018
The U.S. Civil Rights Commission has had some ups and downs over the years. Appointees are political, but with six-year terms, their appointments extend beyond the next election. At times, the result has been a stalemated group, unable to speak out effectively on the civil rights challenges facing the nation.
Today, the basic composition of the Commission hasn't changed -- it's still a bi-partisan group of eight appointees. But perhaps because of the extreme positions promoted by this administration, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has found its voice and is energetically taking action to hold the line on civil rights.
On June 15, the Commission, acting by majority vote of six commissioners, sent a letter to the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security strongly condemning the Trump Administration's policy of separating children and families at the U.S. border.
Recent reports have focused on voting rights, inequity in education funding, and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Currently, the agency is investigating discrimination in government enforcement decisions. After a period of neglect, the Commission has re-invigorated its state advisory structure, expanding its local eyes and ears, and reach, across the country.
As the Human Rights at Home blog, we can't help but wish that the Commission would do more to frame its work through human rights norms, particularly since it is the closest thing that the U.S. has to a national human rights institution. Without making any commitments on that score, Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon has encouraged NGO submissions to the Commission, such as comments on their proposed reports, that illuminate human rights concerns. Further, the Commission has acknowledged the human rights implications of the administration's family separation policy; its recent letter specifically noted the UN disapproval of the policy.
In short, within its sphere of domestic human rights, the Commission is stepping up just when Americans most need a voice within the government that reiterates longstanding American values that seem to have been forgotten by other policymakers.