(Washington, DC -- July 23) During its July 19 monthly meeting, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decided to endorse the Congressional establishment of an independent civil rights office within any new Department of Homeland Security. The Office of Rights and Liberties, as coined by the Commission, would be charged with overseeing compliance to civil rights and civil liberties in the effort to maintain national security.
The Commission believes that safeguards provided by the courts and congressional watchdogs and from political pressure will not be enough to protect civil liberties after the extensive reorganization of the federal government proposed with the creation of a homeland security agency. The Commission wants the Office of Rights and Liberties modeled after longstanding Inspectors General offices and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The office's authority would include the power to impose civil administrative fines, seek judicial enforcement of subpoenas and inform the public on department policies.
"An independent monitor with investigative powers - similar to the Commission and other federal oversight offices - would help maintain the balance between ensuring domestic security and Constitutional rights," remarked Chairperson Mary Frances Berry. "As the development of this proposal, suggested by Commissioner Christopher Edley, moves forward, we are pleased that House Democrats are also insisting on the creation of a civil rights office and are eager to review the measure."
A special House committee approved legislation for the Department of Homeland Security last Friday that included the development of an internal civil rights office.