Q: What does the bureau do?
A: The Civil Rights Division is responsible for the enforcement of all federal civil rights laws, made achievable by a highly devoted team of attorneys and support staff.
I argued a number of appeals around the country at the Circuit Courts of Appeals and one case in the U.S. Supreme Court which involved a referral from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where an employee claimed that his discharge violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Life doesn't get any better for a lawyer than to argue a case with all engaged in questioning!
Q: How has civil rights law changed in the decades since you became active in public service?
A: I became active in public service in the mid-1950s, before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and New York state had been one of the early leaders in civil rights laws. Since that time, lawmakers and the courts have been increasingly responsive to correcting past hostility and have reduced the burden of proof required to enable claims of discrimination.
In addition, a broader recognition and undertaking of theretofore unrecognized civil rights, e.g., age and disability, developed into legislation (Americans with Disability Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act). In recent years, U.S. Supreme Court decisions have limited some of those trends and have made it more difficult to overcome discrimination.
Q: After ushering the Rockefeller Drug Laws through the Legislature, you spent years fighting to repeal what became known as the harshest drug statutes in the country. Why did you support them in the first place? Did Governor Rockefeller ask for your help in getting them through the Senate?
A: By the early 1970s, New York state's ambitious and forward-looking attempts to address drug abuse and the crime it generated had failed.
The largest methadone maintenance treatment program in the nation had failed and the extremely expensive drug treatment program, which involved experimental rehab programs and compulsory institutionalization, was an acknowledged failure, and the public sensed that the courts were letting too many offenders back on the street. The result was a return to the traditional criminal law penalties of punishment and deterrence and restricting court discretion.
While the governor did not personally lobby me to support his proposals, I shared my Senate colleagues' view that this final, desperate plan might work, although I did not know what it would achieve other than to fill our prisons. The little-recognized corollary to the drug laws was passage of the second felony offender statute, which Rockefeller endorsed and contributed equally to the prison crisis.