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Holder tells Senate judiciary committee hate crimes legislation is a DOJ priority

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday that passing hate crimes legislation is one of his top priorities [prepared statement] for the future, during the first Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] oversight hearing [materials; video] of the Obama administration. In a prepared statement that covered a wide variety of topics, Holder also discussed counter-terrorism efforts, the closure of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], border security, and the DOJ's commitment to civil rights. In his introductory remarks, Holder said:

I testified during my confirmation hearings earlier this year that under my leadership, the Department would pursue a very specific set of goals: ensuring public safety against threats both foreign and domestic; ensuring fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans; assisting our state and local partners; and defending the interests of the United States according to the law. I believe we are on the right path to accomplish those goals.

First, we are working to strengthen the activities of the federal government that protect the American people from terrorism and are doing so within the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Let me be clear: we need not sacrifice our core values in order to ensure our security. Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools. America must be a beacon to the world. We can lead and are leading by strength, by wisdom, and by example.

Second, we are working to ensure that the Department of Justice will always serve the cause of justice, not the fleeting interests of politics. For example, law enforcement decisions and personnel actions must be untainted by partisanship.

Third, we are working to reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Department. Without ever relaxing our guard in the fight against global terrorism, the Department is also embracing its historic role in fighting crime, protecting civil rights, preserving the environment, and ensuring fairness in the market place.
Holder also fielded questions from committee members on a range of topics, from his plans to deal with Mexican drug cartels to the recent arrest of 24 individuals [JURIST report] suspected of trafficking in Native American artifacts.

In a speech to a Washington audience Tuesday, Holder called for stricter hate crimes laws [JURIST report], citing recent violence against Dr. George Tiller and at the US Holocaust Museum. Holder mentioned the recent House of Representatives [official website] approval [JURIST report] of the Federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 [HR 1913 text], which broadens the definition of hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation, gender identity and disabilities. The proposed legislation seeks to expand current legislation which only covers crimes based on race, religion or national origin. In 2007, the House approved [JURIST report] a similar hate crimes bill, and the US Senate also passed [JURIST report] similar legislation in the form of an amendment to the 2008 Senate Defense Reauthorization Bill [HR 1585 materials]. However, the broadened language was ultimately removed [JURIST report] during House and Senate negotiations.

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