Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on "H.R. 40: Exploring the Path to Reparative Justice in America":
"Today’s hearing on 'H.R. 40: Exploring the Path to Reparative Justice' gives us the opportunity to reflect on the shameful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in this country, and to examine how we can best move forward as a nation.
"For nearly three decades, the former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers of Michigan, introduced H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study proposals for slavery reparations. Our colleague, the Gentlewoman from Texas, Ms. Jackson Lee, has taken up sponsorship of this legislation, and I am pleased to be an original cosponsor.
"H.R. 40 is intended to begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.
"Even long after slavery was abolished, the anti-Black racism that undergirded it reflected and defined part of our nation’s attitudes, shaping its policies and institutions. Today, we still live with racial disparities in access to education, health care, housing, insurance, employment and other social goods that are directly attributable to the damaging legacy of slavery and government-sponsored racial discrimination. These disparities in terms of disproportionate burdens on African Americans have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is important to recognize that H.R. 40 makes no conclusion about how to properly atone for, and make recompense for, the legacy of slavery and its lingering consequences. It does not mandate financial payments of any kind and it does not prejudge the outcome of the commission’s work. Instead, it sets forth a process by which a diverse group of experts and stakeholders can study the complex issues involved and make recommendations.
"In fact, most serious reparations models that have been proposed to date have focused on reparative community-based programs of employment, health care, housing, and educational initiatives—righting wrongs that cannot be fixed with checks alone.
"This moment of national reckoning comes at a time when our nation must find constructive ways to confront a rising tide of racial and ethnic division. On January 6, we saw the ugly confluence of such divisions, as white nationalist groups appeared to be among those playing a central role in the violent assault on the United States Capitol. And, last summer, we saw an outpouring of protests stemming from the killings of unarmed Black people by police.
"White nationalism and police-community conflict are just part of the long legacy of anti-Black racism that has shaped our nation’s laws, institutions, and societal attitudes. That racism and division hold back our country’s longstanding efforts to carry out what the Preamble to our Constitution says it is designed to do—to form 'a more perfect union.'
"Reparations in the context of H.R. 40 are ultimately about respect and reconciliation—and the hope that one day, all Americans can walk together toward a more just future.
"I hope that the commission established by H.R. 40 can help us better comprehend our own history and bring us closer to racial understanding and advancement.
"Today’s hearing gives the Subcommittee an important opportunity to hear from witnesses directly involved in shaping the discourse on healing our society and creating a path to reparative justice. I am pleased that we have such a distinguished panel of witnesses, whose testimony will assist us greatly in understanding the scope of our inquiry.
"The discussion of reparations is a journey in which the road traveled is almost more important than the exact destination. I am pleased that the Subcommittee is beginning this process today and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
"I yield back the balance of my time."