Herring announces new Office of Civil Rights within Attorney General’s office

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Attorney General Mark Herring announced Tuesday he’s creating an Office of Civil Rights dedicated to investigating allegations of discrimination in policing, housing and employment.

“The Office of Civil Rights will enhance our ability to protect Virginians from discrimination in housing, employment and public life, as well as allow us to tackle new responsibilities, like ‘pattern and practice’ investigations that can root out and end unconstitutional policing and enforcing protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians,” Herring said in a statement.

Herring said the new office replaces and expands the Office of Human Rights, which had one attorney and three staffers when he took office. The new office will have a staff of seven attorneys and six staffers, including investigators, he said.

Herring tied the reorganization to the passage of a handful of bills passed by new Democratic majorities last year that expand the duties of his office, including legislation that authorizes the attorney general to investigate discrimination in local police departments and sweeping bills banning LGBTQ and gender-based discrimination.

The new office can be reached at 804-225-2292 or [email protected].

The announcement comes as Herring, a Democrat, faces a primary challenge from Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who himself announced a proposal to create a dedicated civil rights division within the attorney general’s office in early November.

Jones called Herring’s announcement a political stunt in a statement Tuesday and demanded Herring release correspondence documenting the office’s creation “so that the public can know that Mark Herring isn’t using his office to advance his own personal politics.”

“The creation of an Office of Civil Rights is long overdue and has been a signature policy proposal of my campaign,” Jones said. “Why did Mark Herring finally see the light after seven years of inaction? … Virginians deserve to know the truth as to whether this office was a policy decision, or a politically motivated one to fuel a reelection campaign.”

Both Herring and Jones said they’ll pursue legislation to make the new office permanent when the General Assembly convenes later this month.