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Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 40, Legislation to Study and Develop Slavery Reparations Proposals

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act: 

"H.R. 40, the 'Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act,' is historic legislation that would establish a commission to examine the shameful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in this country, and to develop proposals on how we can best move forward as a nation. 

"This legislation is long overdue.

"For nearly three decades, the former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers of Michigan, introduced H.R. 40.  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 we continue to see unarmed Black people killed by police at a disproportionate rate, with another tragic death just this week.

"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.

"The discussion of reparations is a journey in which the road traveled is almost more important than the exact destination.  Passing H.R. 40 is an important first step.

"I am pleased that the Judiciary Committee is beginning this journey today and I urge all my colleagues to support this important legislation."
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