On Tuesday, the House passed the Claims Resolution Act–legislation that provides long-delayed justice for tens of thousands of black farmers and hundreds of thousands of American Indians. Among its provisions, the bill contains funding to implement the settlements of the Pigford class action lawsuit involving past discrimination against black farmers by the Agriculture Department and the Cobell class action lawsuit involving funds for American Indians mismanaged by the Interior Department.
Today, Speaker Pelosi joined with Democratic Members of the House and Senate to enroll the bill and send it to President Obama for his signature into law:
Speaker Pelosi’s remarks:
“It’s appropriate that the bells are ringing this morning as we walk in for the enrollment ceremony of this important legislation. [Bells] We can wait. Because it signals the end of a sad chapter in our nation’s history. By sending the President legislation to provide funding to settle the African American farmers’ and Native Americans’ lawsuits against the federal government, we are finally ensuring the federal government will honor the commitment made in these cases.
“I would like to recognize the leadership of the Majority Whip, Jim Clyburn. Relentless would be too gentle a word; it doesn’t even begin to capture the attitude and the strength which he brought, his unrelenting efforts to create the progress today.
“I would also like to thank Dr. John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmer’s Association, for his stalwart advocacy outside the Congress.
“I am honored to be here today with Chairman Bennie Thompson, with Bobby Scott, Carolyn Kilpatrick, Sanford Bishop, G.K. Butterfield— who have been working on this black farmer issue for a very long time.
“The other part of it is the Cobell settlement, and Dale Kildee, Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Lujan and Sandy Levin, along with coming over from the Senate our former House colleague Ben Cardin joined really a very persistent advocate in the Congress, Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, Chair of the Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. Thank you, Rosa DeLauro, for your leadership. We have Congresswoman Grace Napolitano for whom this has been an important issue. Joining us as well is Mel Watt from North Carolina. You know, we really could have so many of our Members here because so many played an important role in this over a period of time and through some very, very tense debates.
“But again, we are very, very proud of the action that we will take today to sign the bill to send to the President to change the law to bring justice long overdue in the Pigford, Cobell cases. And I want to, we always are quoting Dr. Martin Luther King from the Birmingham jail. I used to think that we should just have it consistently playing in the Capitol of the United States because no matter what we are doing there is some part of that speech that talks about justice and fairness and doing the right and that applies no matter what course of action we are taking at any moment. But as Martin Luther King wrote in the letters from the Birmingham jail, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
“By compensating black farmers and Native Americans for past failures of judgment by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, we close the door on an old injustice. We must be ever vigilant in terms of how the law is enforced. We must recognize that women farmers and Hispanic farmers and others have not been addressed appropriately yet. But we are proud to have done what we have done today in a fiscally sound way, not adding a dime to the deficit.
“On behalf of the fundamental American value of justice, I am pleased now to sign this legislation.”