|The Virginia House of Delegates on Monday passed a landmark civil rights bill from Attorney General Mark R. Herring and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring to make the Office of Civil Rights a permanent part of the Office of Attorney General.
Herring created the Office of Civil Rights to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to secure and expand the civil rights of Virginians, and to protect all Virginians from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, or other protected status. The designation of the Office of Civil Rights was the culmination of a multiyear plan to expand the authority and resources dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Virginians, and to place the protection of civil rights at the center of the mission of the Office of Attorney General.
“This is a big moment in Virginia’s long and continuing journey to live up to its promise of equality for all. Every Virginian has the right to live free from discrimination, and free from the fear that they might be denied an opportunity or treated differently because of who they are, what they look like, how they worship, or whom them love,” said Herring. “I created the Office of Civil Rights to enhance and centralize our ongoing work to protect, defend, and expand Virginians’ civil rights, and to make sure Virginians know that, as their attorney general, I will always stand up and fight for them if they encounter discrimination. By making this office a permanent part of the OAG, we are showing Virginians that we have turned the page on a past when attorneys general either ignored, or actually fought against, the civil rights of the people they were supposed to serve. This is a huge step forward for Virginia, and I can’t thank Majority Leader Herring enough for her leadership in sponsoring this bill and leading it to passage.”
HB2147 makes Herring’s Office of Civil Rights a permanent feature of the Office of Attorney General. It states that the Office of Civil Rights will exist “to investigate and bring actions to combat discrimination” on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, familial status, marital status, or status as a veteran, and will carry out the Commonwealth’s updated statement of policy on the civil and human rights of all Virginians.
The Commonwealth’s revised policy on civil and human rights states that:
“It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide for equal opportunities throughout the Commonwealth to all its citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, familial status, marital status, or status as a veteran and, to that end, to prohibit discriminatory practices with respect to employment, places of public accommodation, including educational institutions, and real estate transactions by any person or group of persons, including state and local law-enforcement agencies, in order that the peace, health, safety, prosperity, and general welfare of all the inhabitants of the Commonwealth be protected and ensured.”
The Office of Civil Rights works to expand and protect Virginians’ civil rights in many ways, including:
Conducting Pattern or Practice Investigations to Identify and Eliminate Unconstitutional and Illegal Policing
Combating LGBTQ and Gender-based Discrimination
Combating Housing Discrimination
Combating Employment and Pay Discrimination
Addressing Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodation
Protecting the Rights of Expectant and New Mothers
The Office was created to centralize and enhance the work Attorney General Herring has done to secure, defend, and expand the rights of Virginians, including:
Successfully arguing that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional and should be struck down;
Conducting the OAG’s first ever investigation into allegations of racial discrimination in a public school system;
Winning the nation’s first preliminary injunction against Donald Trump’s Muslim ban;
Working for years to successfully update Virginia’s hate crime laws and to better protect Virginians from white supremacist violence and terrorism;
Fighting in court on numerous occasions has to protect the voting rights of Virginians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic; and,
Successfully defending the restoration of Virginians’ civil rights by Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Under Herring’s leadership, the Office of Civil Rights includes thirteen staff members, including seven attorneys, after inheriting an office of just four employees, with only one attorney, when he first took office in 2014.