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Statement Of Acting Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood Before The Bicameral Interview Committee Of The New York Legislature

News from the New York Attorney General's Office

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 15, 2018

Attorney General’s Press Office / 212-416-8060
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STATEMENT OF ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL BARBARA D. UNDERWOOD BEFORE THE BICAMERAL INTERVIEW COMMITTEE OF THE NEW YORK LEGISLATURE

As Prepared for Delivery

 May 15, 2018 

Thank you very much for the honor of appearing before you today. 

I want to thank Speaker Carl Heastie, Majority Leader John Flanagan, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb for the invitation. 

And I also want to thank Chair Lentol, Assemblymembers Barclay, Curran, Dinowitz, Peoples-Stokes and Titone, and Senators Dilan, Gallivan, Hoylman, LaValle, Little, and Murphy, for serving on this panel. 

I don’t think any of us expected to be sitting here today. But we are here, after deeply disturbing allegations that shocked me and many others, and that caused the prior Attorney General to resign. The result is that this important office is vacant at a critical time for our state and country.  The Legislature has the solemn task of filling that position, until a newly elected successor takes office. 

As the Solicitor General of New York since 2007, I have had the honor and duty to represent all of the People of this State and all parts of State government. Sometimes that means defending the laws passed by the Legislature.  Sometimes it means helping to enforce those laws. And, perhaps most important to me, sometimes it means being a shield against discriminatory or otherwise unlawful action by the federal government. 

I believe that, at this critical time, the Attorney General must be a stabilizing and strong voice for the rule of law. I’ve argued 20 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, 21 cases before our State’s highest court, and 33 cases in the Second Circuit – and I’ve closely supervised the work of other attorneys on hundreds more. I assure you that I can be that voice. 

I believe I have the respect of the bench and bar, and of other State Attorneys General with whom we often partner. I know well the Department of Law, including all the divisions and bureaus that do its important work every day. 

And I am not a politician. Some people joke that the National Association of Attorneys General—NAAG—is also the National Association of Aspiring Governors. There’s some truth to that, but I can assure you that is not who I am.  I have pursued the cause of justice in the courts, without fear or favor, for all of my professional life. 

At the start of my career I had the privilege of serving as a law clerk for two giants of civil rights and social justice, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and DC Circuit Chief Judge David Bazelon.  

As a woman in a profession long dominated by powerful men, I advocated against discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability, and sexual orientation from the very beginning of my career.   

I taught at Yale Law School for ten years—and while there I litigated several antidiscrimination cases. In one case, I successfully urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hold that Title IX forbids sex discrimination against employees, as well as students, of federally-funded educational institutions.

When I was Chief of Appeals in the Brooklyn DA’s Office in the early 1980s, I urged the state and federal courts to hold that striking jurors based on race is unconstitutional. We were ahead of the curve: the Supreme Court eventually reached that conclusion in 1986, in Batson v. Kentucky, a case in which we filed an amicus brief. 

And I successfully urged the NY Court of Appeals to strike down the exemption in the rape laws for rape committed on a spouse—an exemption based in old sexual stereotypes. 

In the 1990s, when I served as the Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, I successfully worked to change a system of jury selection that was challenged as racially discriminatory. 

And our office, with a team that included the late Ken Thompson and Loretta Lynch, brought civil rights and other charges against police officers after a brutal assault on Abner Louima in the police precinct. 

In another case, I developed the legal theory for a federal civil rights prosecution after Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death. And after the defendants’ convictions, I’m proud to say our office was supported on appeal by many other groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund—because upholding strong civil rights laws in one case makes them available for everyone. 

In the federal Solicitor General’s office during the Clinton Administration, I had the great honor of arguing two cases of vital importance to women – and to everyone who cares about sex discrimination. In one, I argued that federal law bars a supervisor from forcing women to work under the threat that promotions will be conditioned on sexual favors – even if the supervisor never makes good on the threat. In another, I argued that the U.S. Constitution allows States to create reasonable buffer zones around women’s health clinics—in order to protect women’s right to choose. 

And for the past eleven years, as Solicitor General of New York, I have worked tirelessly with a truly wonderful and dedicated team, to advance the cause of justice and protect the rule of law. 

During the Obama Administration, we fought to defend the Clean Power Plan, to preserve the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights laws, and to resist other states’ efforts to impose draconian restrictions on undocumented immigrants. 

Since President Trump took office, those efforts have become even more important, as the cause of justice and the rule of law have come increasingly under threat. 

We have filed about a dozen briefs, leading the efforts of a group of states to challenge the President’s travel ban, which was partly halted by the courts. And earlier this year, our office won a preliminary injunction halting the Trump Administration’s termination of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – on a nationwide basis. 

We have defended the Affordable Care Act, which has so dramatically increased New Yorkers’ access to health care. When the federal government sought to cut off vital payments for New York’s Essential Plan—which covers hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers—our office challenged that decision and recently secured agreement by the federal government to pay a $150 million interim payment to the State, with an expectation of more in the pipeline. 

We have supported public sector unions against an increasing legal threat to their financial wellbeing. We have fought to protect a woman’s right to choose, challenged rollbacks of environmental regulations, and sought to safeguard the rights of transgender students. 

In short, we have resisted many efforts by the current federal administration that we believe violate the law and will harm New Yorkers. 

In many ways, I feel that this work is the most important work I have ever done, and I assure you the work will continue uninterrupted if the Legislature allows me to serve out the current term. 

I hope I have earned your trust that I will faithfully perform the duties of the Attorney General of the State of New York for as long as I serve in that position. 

Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.