The U.S. Justice Department has been filing “statements of interest” in civil-rights cases, throwing its weight behind private lawsuits and pushing the boundaries of the law, the New York Times reports. The cases have involved such subjects as legal aid in New York, transgender students in Michigan, juvenile prisoners in solitary detention in California, and people who take videos of police officers in Baltimore. “The Justice Department is sending a clear message: that we will not accept criminal justice procedures that have discriminatory effects,” former Attorney General Eric Holder said in February after filing documents in a case involving high court bonds in Alabama.
“We want to do as much federal civil rights work as possible, and statements of interest are effective, efficient tools,” said Vanita Gupta, the top DOJ civil rights prosecutor. She has asked her lawyers to look for local cases that presented opportunities for the federal government to make important civil rights arguments. By piggybacking on local cases, the Justice Department can cover a lot more ground, coaxing judges toward liberal interpretations of civil rights law without taking on a prolonged court fight. “We're helping clarify the law,” said, “and helping courts interpret the law in the right way.”