Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced the creation of the Office of Civil Rights within the Office of Attorney General to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to protect Virginians from discrimination and to secure and expand the rights of all Virginians. The new designation of the Office of Civil Rights is 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.
Additionally, Attorney General Herring is again supporting legislation to make the Office of Civil Rights a permanent feature of the Office of Attorney General, ensuring that protection of Virginians’ civil rights will always be a priority. This year’s legislation has been developed in conjunction with Del. Charniele Herring after previous efforts championed by Del. Alfonso Lopez were blocked in Republican-controlled committees.
“During my time as attorney general we have dramatically shifted the role and mission of the office to ensure that the protection and expansion of Virginians’ rights is at the center of all we do,” said Attorney General Herring. “Over the last few years we have added legal authority, resources, and incredible legal talent to our team, which now allows us to formally create the OAG’s first Office of Civil Rights.
“The new Office of Civil Rights is an historic step in turning the page on a past when the Commonwealth, and even its attorney general, was too often a threat to civil rights, rather than a guardian and champion for Virginians’ rights. In too many instances in the past, attorneys general fought to protect unjust and unconstitutional violations of Virginians rights, like going all the way to the Supreme Court to defend school segregation in Davis v. Prince Edward, a ban on interracial marriage in the Loving case, or unequal educational opportunities for women in the VMI case. But we have shown Virginians a different vision of an attorney general who fights for their rights no matter who threatens them, and we have won time and again.
“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. 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.
“I want to thank all of the legislators who have helped us expand our civil rights jurisdiction and resources, including Senator Lucas, Delegate Herring, Delegate Lopez and others. They believed in my vision for a strong civil rights portfolio in the Office of Attorney General and have helped us make it a reality. With their support and leadership, this is the year we will make this work a permanent feature of the OAG.”
The creation of the OAG’s first Office of Civil Rights continues Attorney General Herring’s work throughout his two terms to secure, defend, and expand the rights of Virginians. Attorney General Herring:
is the first attorney general to successfully argue that his state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional and should be struck down;
conducted the OAG’s first ever investigation into allegations of racial discrimination in a public school system;
won the nation’s first preliminary injunction against Donald Trump’s Muslim ban;
worked for years to successfully update Virginia’s hate crime laws and to better protect Virginians from white supremacist violence and terrorism;
has gone to court repeatedly to protect the voting rights of Virginians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic; and,
successfully defended the restoration of Virginians’ civil rights by Governor Terry McAuliffe.
The newly-constituted Office of Civil Rights will expand and reorganize the existing Division of Human Rights, which was transferred from the executive branch into the OAG in 2012, to include additional authorities and responsibilities that Attorney General Herring has secured from the General Assembly.