Without a new law, Justice Department updates racial profiling guidelines
President Barack Obama had worked earlier in his career to curb racial profiling, but when he reached the Oval Office he found it wasn't as high of a priority for Congress.
Obama had helped pass an anti-profiling law as a state senator in Illinois, and cosponsored a similar bill, the End Racial Profiling Act, as a U.S. senator for the state. But overall, there was little effort by lawmakers to follow up.
Democrats in the House and Senate have been introducing ERPA bills since 2001. Versions of the bill (the last was in 2015) prohibited federal agencies from using racial profiling, allowed people to sue for damages from being profiled and tied federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to anti-profiling guidelines.
The White House supported these bills to varying degrees during Obama's two terms, but with no bill making it to a vote in the House or Senate, Obama had nothing to sign into law.
Several cases in which local police officers killed unarmed black men in places like Ferguson, Mo., New York and Cleveland led Obama's Justice Department to institute new personnel rules to try to ease racial profiling.
In December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his agency had banned racial profiling from national security cases. FBI agents were directed not to consider national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity when opening cases, as well as race and ethnicity. These were guidelines for state and local agents if they were acting as part of federal cases, but they weren't binding.
"As attorney general, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective," 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 White House also announced in 2014 a new task force on 21st century policing to help identify new and better ways for law enforcement to interact with their communities.
In 2016, the Justice Department said it would continue to help implement the task force's findings. The department then said it would train law enforcement agents to recognize and address implicit bias — underlying prejudices of which agents might otherwise be unaware.
No racial profiling bill passed Congress during Obama's administration, but his Justice Department did overhaul its rules to address racial profiling. We rate this a Compromise.
Washington Post, "Justice Dept. announces new rules to curb racial profiling by federal law enforcement," Dec. 8, 2014
WhiteHouse.gov, "President Obama Announces Task Force on 21st Century Policing," Dec. 18, 2014
U.S. Justice Department Community Oriented Policing Services, "Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing," May 2015
U.S. Justice Department Community Oriented Policing Services, "Department of Justice Announces Initiative to Advance 21st Century Policing," May 23, 2016
U.S. Justice Department, "Department of Justice Announces New Department-Wide Implicit Bias Training for Personnel," June 27, 2016
Illinois General Assembly, SB 30, accessed Dec. 5, 2016
Congress.gov, S. 1670, accessed Dec. 5, 2016
Congress.gov, HR 3618, accessed Dec. 5, 2016
Congress.gov, S. 2481, accessed Dec. 5, 2016
Congress.gov, HR 1933, accessed Dec. 5, 2016
Interview with Michael Lieberman, Anti-Defamation League Civil Rights Policy Planning Center director, Nov. 15, 2016
No racial profiling bill for President Barack Obama to sign
A bill to ban racial profiling never made it to President Barack Obama"s desk.
The White House didn't speak up in favor of the most recent versions in the House and Senate, according to Rights Working Group, which advocates for policies to prohibit racial profiling at the local, state and federal level.
"His White House has not actually taken an active role," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Rights Working Group.
The legislation, known as the End of Racial Profiling Act of 2011, didn't make it to a committee vote, though it did gain sponsors in both chambers, a move forward from our update in 2010.
Huang said the administration said it would wait to weigh in until the legislation hit the House or Senate floor.
The second question, whether the administration provided federal funding to state and local police departments if they adopted policies that prohibited the practice, is "complicated," Huang said.
What's more clear is that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice investigated local agencies for discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, such as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona led by Joe Arpaio.
But Huang didn't hear of funding being jeopardized on the basis of such investigations, much less the opposite — support for agencies who performed well.
"So, it's a mixed record,” she said.
The White House didn't provide additional evidence.
Obama promised to sign legislation that will ban the practice of racial profiling. Such a bill never made it to his desk, and a key advocacy group says the White House didn't take an active role to get it there. Meanwhile, we don't see evidence of additional federal funding for agencies that adopted policies to prohibit the practice. We rate this Promise Broken.
Library of Congress' Thomas, S.B. 1670, "End of Racial Profiling Act of 2011," accessed Nov. 7, 2012
Library of Congress' Thomas, H.R. 3618, "End of Racial Profiling Act of 2011," accessed Nov. 7, 2012
Rights Working Group, "Racial Profiling: Face the Truth," accessed Nov. 6, 2012
Rights Working Group, "Racial Profiling Resources," Nov. 12, 2010
Interview with Margaret Huang, executive director, Rights Working Group, Nov. 6, 2012
Email interview with Matt Lehrich, White House press office, Nov. 8-9, 2012
Department of Justice, "Justice Department Settles Lawsuit with Maricopa County Sheriff"s Office Settlement Comes After the Sheriff"s Office Provided Information Sought in Title VI Investigation,” June 2011
Ban on racial profiling awaits action
As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama sponsored and helped pass a law to end racial profiling in that state. As a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored legislation to ban the practice by federal agencies, and as a candidate for president he pledged to sign such a bill into law.
That bill just hasn't made it to his desk.
Liberal Democrats in Congress, led in the House by Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers of Michigan and in the Senate by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, have been trying to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, or ERPA, since 2001. The most recent iteration, however, was filed in 2007, and there is no active legislation now before Congress.
Past versions of the bill would prohibit federal agencies from using racial profiling; allow people to sue if they suffer damages because they were profiled; and tie federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to their development of anti-profiling procedures.
Presumably, any new ERPA bill would feature the same basic tenents, and signing it would fulfill Obama's campaign promise. The White House still lists banning racial profiling among its priorties for civil rights, but its status in Congress is a little fuzzy. The American Bar Association sent Conyers a letter on Dec. 1 lauding him for introducing the End Racial Profiling Act of 2009 and promising its support, but after an extensive search of Thomas.gov, congressional Web sites and advocacy groups, it does not appear that the bill has actually been filed.
In a Dec. 7, 2009, guest column in the Baltimore Sun , two ERPA advocates -- NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and Margaret Huang, executive director of the Rights Working Group -- write that 40 members of Congress are expected to reintroduce a version of the bill soon. Calls and e-mails to Feingold's and Conyers' offices for clarification have not been returned.
With no bill apparently active, and with congressional passage certainly not imminent, we find this Obama campaign promise Stalled.
White House priorities for
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., fact sheet on the Ending Racial Profiling Act of 2007.
Guest column on ERPA by Benjamin Todd Jealous and Margaret Huang in the Baltimore Sun.
Letter from the American Bar Association supporting ERPA.
Testimony of Melanca D. Clark, counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law on state efforts to ban racial profiling.