Yesterday afternoon advocates from civil rights organizations across the country were invited to a meeting with Tom Perez, the newly confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — a law that has been called the sleeping giant of the civil rights legal pantheon. The fact that the meeting was happening was symbolic of the change in attitude at the Civil Rights Division of DOJ after the 8 years of the Bush Administration. Earlier in the week, there was a meeting with language access advocates from across the country as well. “DOJ is back in the civil rights business,” according to Tom Perez.
What exactly this will look like remains to be seen, but here in the Health Justice program we are cautiously optimistic. For our work, having the federal government willing to engage in a little bit of oversight and enforcement, or simply issue guidance on critical issues related to health disparities, could have a ripple effect across the health care industry. It also opens up an entirely new venue of advocacy–the federal government–which had been effectively closed off to us for the past 8 years. We’ll be working with our community partners to figure out what to do and how – stay tuned!