Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl A. Racine delivered the 2021 Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture in March, in which he focused on the office’s efforts in affordable housing, worker rights, juvenile justice and combating hate. Following his remarks, Racine took questions from the virtual audience of more than 100 attendees.
Dean Renée Hutchins introduced the Attorney General, who began his talk with heartfelt praise for the University of the District of Columbia and reminded the audience that his mother, who died in late 2020, taught at UDC for fifty years. Marie-Marcelle Buteau Racine began her teaching career at Federal City College, a predecessor school to UDC, and spent those decades teaching foreign language and serving as dean and department chair.
Racine then emphasized the importance of UDC and particularly the David A. Clarke School of Law in addressing the issues he discussed. He described the job of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the positive impact UDC Law students have in helping the office conduct its work. Racine’s talk centered on the public interest work being done by the Office of the Attorney General both locally and nationally.
He first described how the office focuses on the rights of tenants and fights for affordable housing. Washington has experienced a surge in new residents, Racine said, “but also the most intense most intense displacement of District residents, overwhelmingly Black, brown and lower income people” as a result of policies that favor development. Thus, “standing up for tenants is one area of the public interest that the Office of the Attorney General has pursued.”
Next, Racine turned to worker rights as another priority of the office. “We are in a terrible pandemic of wage theft and worker misclassification in the District,” he said. Construction is ubiquitous in D.C., which Racine argued is a clear sign there is wage theft occurring. He stressed that such practices more often affect immigrants and poor “hardworking people who are vulnerable and often don’t complain.”
Locally, juvenile justice has also been a key initiative in the office with an emphasis on “prosecuting kids without bringing them into the criminal justice system.” Racine said efforts to increase diversion and restorative justice have been successful in reducing recidivism in youth.
Racine closed his speech with some of the national issues in which his office has been instrumental, including ensuring people who need access to programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continue to receive those benefits and combating the increase in hate over the past several years. Racine said his office teamed up with 22 other attorney general offices to stop the previous administration from creating additional obstacles for people who receive benefits like SNAP. He moved next to the ways in which the office is working to eliminate the “outrageous,” “exponential” growth in hate. He said it’s important to call hate out and work to stop it with policies that recognize its complexity. “A lot of the hate we’re seeing has intersectionality to it,” he said, adding that much of it falls on women and using the Atlanta spa shooting in March as an example. “It’s so important we have a better tone at the top of the United States government,” Racine said, “we cannot foster, condone, encourage or defend hate groups.”
Racine thanked the virtual crowd before taking questions from the audience, which Dean Hutchins moderated. Topics included domestic terrorism and political rhetoric, the impact of systemic issues on the work of the office, the future of D.C. statehood, District responses to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the benefits of hiring from diverse law schools, ways in which D.C. residents and law schools can help with the programs at the Office of the Attorney General, plans for additional LGBTQ+ protections, a post-COVID safe return to work and progressive efforts in law enforcement. There was also a bit of speculation on Racine’s future with a question about whether he would run for office, to which Dean Hutchins counteroffered – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that he would always be welcome to teach at UDC Law. The Attorney General answered masterfully, leaving all doors open but not tipping his hand.