Enforcement of Civil Rights Law Declined Since '99, Study Finds
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
New York Times
November 22, 2004
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (AP) - Federal enforcement of civil
rights laws has dropped sharply since 1999, as the level of
complaints received by the Justice Department has remained
relatively constant, according a study released Sunday.
Criminal charges of civil rights violations were brought
against 84 defendants last year, down from 159 in 1999,
according to Justice Department data analyzed by the
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse
The study also found that the number of times the Federal
Bureau of Investigation or another federal investigative
agency recommended prosecution in civil rights cases fell
by more than one-third, from more than 3,000 in 1999 to
just over 1,900 last year. Federal court data also show
that the government has sought fewer civil sanctions
against civil rights violators.
One of the study's authors, David Burnham, said the results
showed that civil rights enforcement dropped across the
board in President Bush's first term in office.
"Collectively, some violators of the civil rights laws are
not being dealt with by the government," Professor Burnham
said. "This trend, we think, is significant."
It is unlikely the decline has occurred because of fewer
civil rights violations occurring, the study suggests. The
number of complaints about possible violations received by
the Justice Department has remained at about 12,000
annually for each of the past five years.
The Justice Department had no comment about the study.
When he announced his resignation on Nov. 9, Attorney
General John Ashcroft listed as one of the department's
accomplishments a statistic that showed the number of civil
rights prosecutions was slightly higher over the past three
years than the previous three-year period. Mr. Ashcroft
also said the department had tripled the number of
defendants charged in human trafficking cases compared with
the previous three years.
The Syracuse report gives no conclusive reasons for the
reduction over five years in civil rights enforcement but
speculates that it could have resulted from federal
prosecutors and investigators having spent far more time
than in previous years on terrorism cases after the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks.
Civil rights cases made up a tiny fraction of the Justice
Department's total of 99,341 criminal prosecutions in 2003.
The study found, however, that only civil rights and
environmental prosecutions were down from 1999 to 2003 as
the total caseload rose by about 10 percent.
By far the biggest criminal prosecution category is illegal
drugs, at about 33,100 cases last year, followed by
immigration, weapons violations, white-collar crime and
others. The study was based on data collected from the
Justice Department, federal courts and Congressional budget