Holder Plans to Expand Limits on Profiling by Federal Agents

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Photo: Chris Graythen/2012 Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio really came through on his campaign promise to reform stop-and-frisk on Wednesday. In addition to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton declaring "the problem has been more or less solved" (though the De Blasio administration is still working to how to address the policy), the mayor made much bigger news about the underlying issue – or rather, played a tiny role in coaxing that information out of Attorney General Eric Holder. The New York Times reports that while meeting with De Blasio on Wednesday, Holder revealed that the Justice Department will expand its definition of profiling beyond just race, banning federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation in investigations.

An official briefed on the private meeting told paper that the timing of the announcement wasn't discussed, but a senior Democratic congressional aide said it's "imminent." It's also unclear how far the ban on profiling will go. Racial profiling was prohibited in 2003, but the Bush administration said it was still acceptable in national security investigations. "Adding religion and national origin is huge," Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities, told the Times. "But if they don’t close the national security loophole, then it’s really irrelevant."

The change would influence law enforcement at all levels of government, but new federal guidelines wouldn't apply directly to the NYPD or other local police departments. While stop-and-frisk has received more attention recently, the topic actually came up while De Blasio and Holder were discussing the NYPD's other profiling controversy: its surveillance of Muslims. Back in 2012, Holder said he found the recent reports on the NYPD's Demographics Unit tracking innocent Muslims "disturbing," adding "these are things that are under review at the Justice Department." Apparently he wasn't just deflecting reporters' questions.