July 10, 2018

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Mandate Release of Civil Rights Cold Case Records

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) joined Senators Doug Jones (D-AL) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in introducing legislation to mandate the review, declassification, and release of government records related to unsolved criminal civil rights cases. Legislation is necessary because the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as implemented, has prevented the timely and adequate disclosure of executive branch records, and congressional records are not subject to public disclosure under FOIA. In addition, some of these records, although almost 50 years old, remain classified unnecessarily or shielded from public view. The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 remedies this problem by requiring the National Archives and Records Administration to create a collection of government documents related to civil rights cold cases and to make those documents available to the public.

“Transparency in our justice system is critical to ensuring trust between the American people and our country’s institutions,” said Senator Harris. “I fought for this as Attorney General of California, and am proud to continue these efforts in the United States Senate. More than 100 cold civil rights criminal cases from nearly 50 years ago stand to be resolved from allowing public access to these records, and we must allow the families and communities affected to have the opportunity for justice and to receive the peace of mind they deserve.”

The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 will:

  • Require the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish a collection of cold case records about unsolved criminal civil rights cases that government offices must publicly disclose in the collection without redaction or withholding.
  • Establish a Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board as an independent agency of impartial private citizens to facilitate the review, transmission to NARA, and public disclosure of government records related to such cases.

The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 was modeled after the President John F. Kennedy, Jr. Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which created an orderly and effective process for reviewing, declassifying, and releasing thousands of documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy. Read a detailed overview of the legislation here. The bill was originally envisioned by students from Hightstown High School in Hightstown, New Jersey, and their teacher, Stuart Wexler.

As Attorney General, Harris introduced an initiative entitled OpenJustice, a first-of its-kind effort to improve transparency and accountability in the state’s criminal justice system. It provided open government data on California’s law enforcement agencies.