Following a summer of civil unrest over social injustice throughout the Commonwealth, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced the launch of the Office of Civil Rights on Tuesday.
The Office of Civil Rights will operate within the larger Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and is supposed to help ongoing efforts to protect against discrimination and the civil rights of all Virginians, according to a press release.
“The Office of Civil Rights will enhance our ability to protect Virginians from discrimination in housing, employment, and public life, as well as allow us to tackle new responsibilities, like ‘pattern and practice’ investigations that can root out and end unconstitutional policing and enforcing protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians,” Herring said in the release.
“And the Office of Civil Rights will be a natural home for additional civil rights initiatives we hope to launch in conjunction with the General Assembly, like more robust protection of voting rights, protections for the civil rights of Virginians with disability, and more tools to combat healthcare discrimination and ensure education equity,” Herring continued.
The newly-formed office will “expand and reorganize” the state’s existing Division of Human Rights, which was transferred to the OAG from the executive branch in 2012. As part of this change, the Office of Civil Rights will consist of 13 staff members, including seven attorneys, according to the release.
Primary focuses for the office and its staff will be pattern or practice investigations on illegal policing, combating housing, employment and gender-based discrimination as well as protecting the rights of expecting or new mothers, the release said.
The office’s work is similar to that of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in terms of investigating issues relating to civil rights, but with a smaller scope that is Virginia-centric.
In an effort to ensure these protections last, Herring is working with Virginia House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring to introduce legislation in the upcoming legislative session to make the Office of Civil Rights a permanent entity.
“We want to make sure his focus on civil rights and equal opportunity remains central to the Office of Attorney General for generations to come,” Del. Herring said in the release. “This legislation will send a clear signal that the Commonwealth believes in equality for all, and will actively work to protect the rights and dignity of all its people.”
Herring, who is seeking a third-term as attorney general in November, said the creation of the office was part of a multi-year plan.
However, fellow Democratic attorney general candidate, Delegate Jerrauld Jones (D-Norfolk), proposed the creation of a dedicated Office of Civil Rights in an op-ed back published by The Roanoke Times in mid-November.
The Virginia Star reached out to Jones for comment on this story, but did not immediately get a response.
According to Wavy.com, Jones called Herring’s move politically motivated and called for the OAG to release emails relating to the office’s creation in a statement on Tuesday.
The Republican candidates for attorney general are Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), who is also a practicing attorney, as well as lawyer and former Marine Chuck Smith.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Falbisoner. CC BY-SA 3.0.