[JURIST] Enforcement of various civil rights laws decreased during the Bush administration, according to a report [text, PDF; summary] released Thursday by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) [official website]. The GAO studied the activities of the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites] between 2001 and 2007. According to the report, DOJ lawsuits to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell [NYT report] from about 11 per year under the Clinton administration to about 6 per year under the Bush administration. There was also a drop in the number of cases brought under the Voting Rights Act from more than four cases a year under Clinton to fewer than two cases a year under Bush. The US House of Representatives held a hearing [materials; recorded video] Thursday on oversight of the Civil Rights Division, at which GAO Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Eileen Regen Larence recommended [testimony, PDF]:
that to strengthen the Division's ability to manage and report on the four sections' enforcement efforts, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Division, among other things, (1) require sections to record data on protected class and subject in the Division's case management system in order to facilitate reporting of this information to Congress, and (2) as the Division considers options to address its case management system needs, determine how sections should be required to record data on the reasons for closing matters in the system in order to be able to systematically assess and take actions to address issues identified.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez [official profile] said [testimony, PDF] that the DOJ is "working to comply fully with the GAO's recommendations."
In September, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said that the DOJ planned to expand its Civil Rights Division [JURIST report] and more actively enforce anti-discrimination laws. The increased focus on civil rights marks a change in focus from the previous administration, which, according to the New York Times [NYT report; JURIST report], shifted resources from preventing racial discrimination to protecting religious rights. Among the new measures described by Holder were President Barack Obama's plan to add more than 50 lawyers to the Civil Rights Division and increased enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in areas in which minorities are often adversely affected, including housing and employment. At his swearing-in ceremony, Holder pledged [JURIST report] to restore the traditions of fairness and neutrality to the department.