It is in many ways easy for progressives to decry President Obama’s first year in office as a disappointment, particularly when looking at policy changes or realignments at the Department of Justice. But before we write off this last year as one of stasis or capitulation let’s give it a good, fair look and maybe try to see beyond the confines of assessing the President’s first year simply on the basis of righting the failures of the Bush administration.
Take the confirmation of Eric Holder Jr., for example. He has proven to be both a fierce advocate for law enforcement as well as a committed prosecutor of civil rights abuses. This includes a renewed commitment to a change in DOJ internal culture and renewed (albiet shakey at times) strides towards transparency. All told it is nice to witness the Department regain its dignity under Attorney General Holder’s leadership.
It is also hard to argue that civil rights enforcement has not significantly improved under the Obama administration. Within the span of just one year employment discrimination, housing discrimination, and predatory lending practices all became targets, once again, of the government’s enforcement arm. We will see the increase in those enforcement actions bear fruit in the coming months and years. For now take heart that for the first time in nearly a decade civil rights matter.
Those are some of the high points. Now on to some of the low.
Despite the bold executive order issued at the start of his Presidency, so far the steps taken by the administration to address the damage done from torture and interrogation policy have been timid. That includes ordering that the CIA shut down its secret prisons “as expeditiously as possible.” The CIA has no business operating prisons and the President should call for their immediate closure.
The Obama administration has also not prohibited all extrajudicial transfers–otherwise known as extraordinary rendition. Nor has it taken significant steps away from the abusive and unconstitutional practices authorized by the PATRIOT Act. News continues to come in concerning the use by the FBI of unauthorized and unwarranted domestic spying and the administration has hardly taken a bold stand with regards to lgbt rights.
So as we look back and assess the past year for the administration civil rights activists can mark both victory and defeats in individual battles and individual issues. But on the whole it is hard to claim that the Obama administration is as tone deaf to matters of constitutional importance and its predecessor, which makes me hopeful for the years still to come.
photo courtesy of Thorne Enterprises via Flickr
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