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Maryland Attorney General Frosh overturns racist views of his predecessors

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Outgoing Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced on Monday that he is reversing decades of archaic and racist legal opinions his predecessors issued, erasing some of the many vestiges of systems that denied equality to black people.

The 22 rulings, ruled unconstitutional by the courts for decades, had helped state agencies maintain segregation, discriminate against people of color and deny marriage licenses based on race. While Frosh’s office noted that the opinions no longer had legal weight, their formal nullification helps Maryland atone for generations of racist policies.

“The laws were abhorrent and ultimately found to be unconstitutional,” Frosh (D) said in a statement. “We hope that our notice today will help to remove the stain from this previous, harmful and erroneous work. We will continue to fight to eradicate racism and hate in all of our work for Maryland. »

Frosh, who leaves office in January, launched the effort to review old legal opinions this year after outgoing Virginia Attorney General, Democrat Mark Herring, overturned 58 legal opinions confirming racial discrimination that his predecessors had issued .

The attorney general’s action is part of several other efforts the Maryland government has launched to address its racist past — and as the state is poised to install a concentration of state leaders unprecedented in American history.

This month, Maryland elected its first black governor — the third to be elected in the country’s history. Governor-elect Wes Moore (D) has campaigned to correct systemic inequalities.

In a statement praising Frosh’s action on Monday, Moore said, “We have an opportunity and a responsibility to rethink the systems that have left too many Marylanders behind.”

Frosh’s successor, Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), will be the state’s first black attorney general.

A slave-holding frontier state that remained in the Union through the Civil War, Maryland built its wealth on a slave economy that allowed unemployed free blacks to become slaves again and created a vast network of Jim Crow laws after the war, according to state records.

The state legislature formally apologized for slavery in 2007 – 373 years after the institution began in the state’s first constitution and 143 years after a new constitution abolished it.

In 2019, state lawmakers created the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission to research known and unknown cases of extrajudicial racial terror that killed at least 41 black people.

“Lynch him! A century after a white mob hanged a black man from a tree, the site’s soil is preserved

In May 2021, Governor Larry Hogan (right) granted posthumous pardons to 34 black lynching victims, in what was believed to be the nation’s first systemic pardon for all known lynching victims in a state.

“We have no greater responsibility as leaders in a democracy than to preserve for future generations the importance of clearly differentiating right from wrong,” the governor said at the time.

In its 13-page notice quashing prior legal opinions, Frosh says his office reviewed opinions dating back to 1916 — the first year they were compiled into a published volume.

“Even though we prefer otherwise, our research has shown that the Maryland Attorney General’s Office was at times complicit in the state’s history of racial discrimination,” Frosh wrote.

He stressed that he was not passing judgment on whether they should have challenged the constitutionality of these laws, saying that was a function of the courts.

As an example, Frosh cited an opinion – issued after the US Supreme Court ruled that schools could not be segregated by race under the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine – which held that Maryland could separate black and white children who got in trouble with the law. and assigned by the courts to remedial boarding schools known as “training schools”.

In 1928, the attorney general of Maryland ruled that a clerk should deny a marriage license to a white man and a woman whose paternal grandparents were black.

“Letting go of these unfortunate views cannot change the past,” Frosh wrote. “But we hope it will serve to reinforce our Office’s current commitment to equality before the law.