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January 09, 2019

Senators Jones, Cruz Announce Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act is Signed Into Law

Washington, DC – Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced that their bipartisan Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act  was signed into law by the President late yesterday evening. Their legislation requires the review, declassification, and release of government records related to unsolved criminal civil rights cases. Senators Jones and Cruz have led a months-long bipartisan effort to provide public access to unsolved civil rights crime documents through their legislation. Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) led the companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“This moment has been years in the making. I want to thank my colleagues Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Bobby Rush for their strong partnership throughout this effort, which started with a group of talented high school students who encountered a problem and wanted to find a solution. I am excited that their classroom idea and the solution we worked on together has now been signed into law by the President of the United States. I also appreciate the comments the President made in his signing statement in support of our legislation and his encouragement that Congress appropriate funds for its implementation. This law sends a powerful message to those impacted by these horrific crimes and to young folks in this country who want to make a difference. I know how deeply painful these Civil Rights-era crimes remain for communities so by shedding light on these investigations I hope we can provide an opportunity for healing and closure,” said Senator Jones.

Senator Jones, who successfully prosecuted two of the former KKK members responsible for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, has long been an advocate for greater access to civil rights cold case records. In 2007, he testified to the House Judiciary Committee in support of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act that established a special initiative in the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate civil rights cold cases. He spoke about the difficulty of prosecuting these cases so many years after the crimes were committed and pointed to the importance of sharing information in order to find the truth.

“I am grateful to have worked with Sen. Jones on this important bill,” Senator Cruz said. “The unsolved crimes committed against Americans seeking their rightful place in the American dream during the civil rights movement casts a dark shadow on an important chapter of American history. It is my hope that, with additional sunlight to these cold cases, there will be revelation, justice, and closure where it has long been lacking.”

Background

The legislation 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. The bill was originally envisioned by students from Hightstown High School in Hightstown, New Jersey, and their teacher, Mr. Stuart Wexler.

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.
  • Establish a Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board to facilitate the review, transmission to NARA, and disclosure of government records related to such cases.

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