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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton Racial Profiling Amendment Passed on House Floor Today After Ferguson and Baltimore

Jun 4, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that the U.S. House of Representatives today passed by voice vote her amendment to prohibit states that receive federal transportation funding from engaging in unconstitutional profiling based on physical characteristics, such as race.  This morning, Norton offered the amendment to the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations (THUD) bill to prevent profiling by law enforcement officials, ensuring citizens are not stopped, investigated, arrested, or detained on federally funded highways, streets, or bridges based on their appearance.  A vote on final passage of the bill is scheduled for next week.  Norton got the same amendment added to the House fiscal year 2015 THUD appropriations bill by voice vote, and it was included in the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill.

“Although I got this historic amendment added and passed last year, its attachment to an annual appropriations bill meant I needed to offer it again,” Norton said.  “Getting this amendment in the THUD bill serves an essential purpose until we can get a permanent authorized version.  We see in Baltimore and Ferguson the results of the disproportionate stops of African Americans in the streets by law enforcement officials because of their color.  In my remarks on the House floor, I submitted documentation from federal studies of the violation of the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which left Congress with little alternative but to pass my amendment.”

Norton’s statement introducing the amendment on the House floor, as prepared for delivery, follows.

Statement of the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton 
on Amendment to H.R. 2577, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016, Prohibiting Racial Profiling 
June 4, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise to offer an amendment to prohibit the use of federal funds to stop, investigate, detain, or arrest people on highways based on their physical appearance in violation of the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the same amendment I successfully offered to the fiscal year 2015 THUD appropriations bill, and was agreed to by a voice vote on the House floor and was included in the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus.  I ask the same for the current amendment, which like the one passed by the House last year, seeks to prevent profiling by law enforcement officials and to ensure citizens are not stopped, investigated, arrested, or detained based on their appearance. 

The Supreme Court, in Whren v. U.S., held that profiling based on physical appearance on highways violates equal protection of the laws.  Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act enforces the 14th Amendment and applies to funding for all federal agencies and departments.  My amendment carries out this Title VI mandate in transportation funding.

Federal guidance regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies finds that racial profiling is not merely wrong, but is also ineffective.  Not only Blacks and Hispanics are affected, but many others in our country as well, given the increasing diversity of American society.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that Whites are stopped at a rate of 3.6 percent, but Blacks at 9.5 percent and Hispanics at 8.8 percent, more than twice the rate of Whites.  The figures are roughly the same, regardless of region or state. In Minnesota, for example, a statewide study of racial profiling found that African American, Hispanic, and Native American drivers were stopped and searched far more often than Whites, yet contraband was found more frequently in cars where White drivers had been stopped.  In Texas, where disproportionate stops and searches of African Americans and Hispanics were found to have taken place, it was also found that Whites more often were carrying contraband.

Earlier this Congress, I reintroduced the Racial Profiling Prevention Act, my bill to reestablish a popular federal grant program aimed at reducing racial profiling.  That bill permits states to apply for grants to develop racial profiling laws, to collect and maintain data on traffic stops, to fashion programs to reduce racial profiling, and to train law enforcement officers.  Nearly half of the states participated in the program when it was in existence, which shows both the need and interest in tackling this civil rights issue.  I got the program included in the surface transportation law in 2005, but the program expired in 2009.  I will try to get this bill included in the surface transportation reauthorization bill we will be writing this year, but in the meantime, a formal prohibition on racial profiling is in order.  Meanwhile, Congress should have no hesitation in carrying out the 14th Amendment and 1964 Civil Rights Act mandate regarding federal funding of transportation, and neither the House nor Senate hesitated last year.

Considering our country's history and increasing diversity, we are late in barring profiling at the national level.  At the very least, federal taxpayers should not be compelled to subsidize the unconstitutional practice of profiling by law enforcement officials in the states.  I urge adoption of this amendment.