Ira & Kevin 037Kevin Thomas, Staff Attorney with the Consumer Protection Unit, has been named to the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission, a bipartisan, independent agency of the federal government, is responsible for investigating, reporting on, and making recommendations concerning civil rights issues. It was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Early on, the Commission focused on voting rights in Montgomery, Alabama, where  the agency’s requests for voter registration records were rejected by Circuit Judge George C. Wallace, later governor of Alabama, who said, “And if any agent of the Civil Rights Commission comes down to get them, they will be locked up.” The Commission eventually prevailed. The Commission’s hearings and recommendations on the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education and housing discrimination influenced subsequent civil rights, voting rights and housing rights legislation.

The Commission is composed of eight Commissioners who serve six-year terms; four are appointed by the President and four by Congress. The Commission maintains State Advisory Committees for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Members are citizen volunteers familiar with local and state civil rights issues. They advise the Commission on matters of concern in their states, and contribute to the preparation of Commission reports to the President and the Congress.

New York State’s Advisory Committee consists of 16 members from academia, corporations, the private bar, and the judiciary. In 2014, the NYS Committee issued a report on the use of solitary confinement of youth in the State of New York and the New York City, and, in particular, the disproportionate assignment of racial minorities to solitary confinement. The report outlined the damaging effects of prolonged isolation on young adults and adolescents, and pointed to evidence that the practice is not a deterrent – and in fact often leads – to future criminal behavior.

The Committee’s work was credited as a meaningful factor in President Obama’s recent ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Similar actions have been taken at the state and local level, including in New York City where the practice was eliminated for all inmates 21 years old and younger.

Thomas attended his first Committee meeting in early August, and he was impressed.

“This is a great group of highly talented and knowledgeable people who are passionate about protecting those being deprived of their rights and equal protection under the law. It is an honor to be able to work with them, and to support the efforts of the Commission to ensure that the federal government is enforcing civil rights fairly and evenhandedly.”