S. 2854, Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016

S. 2854

Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016

Sen. Richard Burr

December 7, 2016 (114th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
John Huston

Floor Situation

On­­­­ Wednesday, December 7, 2016, the House will consider S. 2854, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. S. 2854 was introduced on April 26, 2016, by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and was referred to the Committee on Judiciary. The bill passed the Senate, as amended, by voice vote on July 14, 2016.

Bill Summary

S. 2854 permanently reauthorizes the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 (Emmett Till Act) and expands the responsibilities of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to include the investigation and prosecution of criminal civil rights statutes violations that resulted in a death, regardless of when the violations occurred.

This bill also calls on the Department of Justice and FBI to consult with civil rights experts, universities, and other entities that have also been gathering evidence in these cold cases; provides clearer direction and improved coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement and the families of victims, advocates, and academics working on these issues; eliminates the pre-1969 time limitation on investigations; while maintaining previous funding authorization levels.


Before the passage of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s, hundreds of racially suspicious crimes were committed in this country, and few attempts to prosecute them were ever pursued. Tuskegee Institute once kept a record of verified lynchings in the United States from 1877 to 1950. The institute documented that nearly 4,000 mainly unprosecuted civil rights crimes occurred during that period. Many American families continue to pass down stories of loss and disappearance even today without knowing the truth about what actually happened to their loved ones.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act was enacted on October 8, 2008, and required the DOJ and the FBI to work together to address “violations of criminal civil rights statutes . . . result[ing] in death” that “occurred not later than December 31, 1969.” Toward that end, FBI field offices reexamined their “cold case files” to identify incidents which might be ripe for investigation under the Act. [1]

Since February of 2007, the FBI and the Division have partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and the National Urban League to identify additional cases for investigation and to solicit their help. This effort is coordinated and led by an accomplished “cold case” prosecutor in the DOJ Civil Rights Division. DOJ officials have conducted and continue to conduct extensive outreach to identify evidence and witnesses to enhance the Department’s efforts to investigate and resolve these unsolved cold cases.[2]

According to the bill sponsor, “There are still too many unsolved murders and too many families who do not know the truth about what happened to their loved ones. This remains deeply troubling, but I know that this bill will help bring the truth to light and hold those accountable for atrocities committed decades ago. I am pleased the Senate has passed this bill, as it is an important part of the legacy of Emmett Till and all the other Americans who were brutally murdered and never received justice. While we can never right these unimaginable wrongs, we can reaffirm to future generations that every American is worthy of the law’s protection.”

[1] See Department of Justice website, Cold Case Initiative
[2] Id.


A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate is currently not available. However, the Committee has indicated that the bill is fully offset.

Additional Information

For questions or further information please contact John Huston with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-5539.