“Civil rights” usually referred to the fight against racial segregation. In several ways, this struggle set the template for other civil rights issues, including disability rights. First, cases such as Brown v. Board of Education demonstrated that disadvantaged groups could gain protections in the courts. Second, movement leaders found that nonviolent protests could gain public sympathy and put pressure on elected officials. Third, civil rights statutes that helped African Americans would also point to means by which the government could protect other excluded groups.
President Biden has nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. On his way out, Becerra has made an important announcement.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the establishment of the Bureau of Disability Rights (Bureau) within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section (Section) of the California Department of Justice. The Bureau will focus on matters that seek to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are advanced through specific investigations and litigation. The Bureau will also expand on the Section's work to vindicate the rights of persons with disabilities on issues including discrimination in education, healthcare, employment, access to public services, and with regard to law enforcement involvement.
“If we are going to make meaningful progress towards protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities, we must devote attorneys and resources to work specifically on these issues,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The establishment of the Bureau of Disability Rights marks an important step toward ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are considered in all of our work here at the California Department of Justice. I look forward to seeing all that the Bureau is able to accomplish.”
Already, Deputy Attorneys General in the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, who will be staffed to the Bureau, have secured relief for persons with disabilities through the inclusion of specific corrective measures in judgments which require reforms. These judgments, for example, advance the rights of students with disabilities, including students who are disciplined for behavior resulting from their disability, and mandate reforms of law enforcement practices relating to officer involvement with individuals experiencing mental health crises, those with disabilities, and the profiling of individuals perceived to have disabilities.
The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities. Since taking office, Attorney General Becerra has:
- Reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities;
- Secured settlements with school districts in Barstow and Oroville to address discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability status;
- Announced a $600,000 settlement with an online special education services provider aimed at protecting schools and students with learning disabilities;
- Co-led a coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s rule undermining Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age in federal health programs;
- Joined a bipartisan coalition in submitting a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opposing its decision to reverse a decades-long policy that allows Veterans Service Organizations 48 hours to review decisions on veteran disability claims; and
- Issued an alert to all school districts in the state reminding school leaders of their obligation to protect the civil rights of students, especially in the face of reports indicating that implicit bias among school administrators leads to students of color and those with disabilities being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action.