Tom Coburn Blocks Civil Rights Investigation

Yesterday Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) denounced Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) announcement that he would place a hold on The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 422 to 2 and scheduled to be passed by unanimous consent in the Senate Thursday. Thursday marked the anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of three young civil rights workers (Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner) in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and is also the anniversary of Edgar Ray Killen's conviction for those crimes two years ago.

"My colleagues and I have fought long and hard for this bill in order to bring to justice people who have perpetrated heinous crimes based on racial hatred," said Dodd. "It has been a bipartisan effort, and I am angry that one of my colleagues is delaying this bill's passage under false pretense. While we allow another day, another week, another month to pass before enacting this legislation, we allow racist criminals to live the lives of innocent people when they should be apprehended and brought to justice. After so many decades, to further delay justice and solace to the families of the victims of these horrific crimes is simply unimaginable."

"The Senate should not wait another day to take up this important legislation," Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said. "This legislation provides necessary tools for our federal government, in cooperation with state and local officials, to vigorously investigate and prosecute these cases. As each day passes, new evidence trickles in while older evidence fades and witnesses age. We must have a sense of urgency about these unsolved cases - justice cannot afford to wait."

Senators Dodd and Leahy introduced The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act in February of this year. The legislation would give the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) increased resources to reopen Civil Rights-era criminal cases which have gone cold by designating a Deputy Chief in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ and a Supervisory Special Agent in the Civil Rights Unit of the FBI. These individuals will be tasked with spearheading and coordinating efforts by federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors to bring long-time fugitives to justice. Both positions will focus on investigating and prosecuting unsolved murder cases that occurred prior to 1970 and the Civil-rights era.