Cold Case Act Signed Into Law

Jan. 8, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC — The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018, also known as the Cold Case Act, has been signed into law by President Trump, completing a three-year journey that began in a high school classroom and ended in the Oval Office.

The Cold Case Act will establish an independent review board to facilitate the release of civil rights cold case records. On Dec. 21, 2018, it passed the House of Representatives three days after receiving unanimous approval in the Senate. To our knowledge, it is the only instance on record of a high school class drafting and advocating for a bill that eventually became a national law. The law, formerly identified as S.3191, is now officially known as P.L. 115-426.

The students drafted the law after being exposed to the tragic stories of more than 100 victims whose cases had been re-opened by the government in 2008 under the Emmett Till Act, but all 113 of which the Department of Justice had closed without resolution by 2015. The students hoped that victims’ families, investigative reporters and historians could uncover new leads, but recognized, after their own research efforts under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that something more needed to be done.

After publishing an op-ed on their bill in Politico, the students caught the attention of Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) who agreed to sponsor the bill; the next wave of students, in 2017, helped edit the bill before Rush introduced it. In 2018, the following class pushed to have the bill concurrently introduced in the Senate. The special election of attorney Doug Jones, an early supporter of the students’ efforts, changed their fortunes in the upper chamber. Sen. Jones (D-AL) won office in part for his successful prosecution in 2000 of two Klansmen convicted of the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

“Justice delayed does not have to mean justice denied in so many of these cases,” Jones said upon introducing the bill into the Senate on July 10, 2018. “We might not solve every one of these cold cases, but my hope is that this legislation will help us find some long-overdue healing and understanding of the truth.” Sen. Jones invited the students into the Senate gallery as he delivered the speech with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) presiding that day. Sen. Cruz became an early champion and co-sponsor of the bill, which was also cosponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

The students of Hightstown High School will continue to fight for the successful implementation of the Cold Case Act. The law was based off of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, a law which securely and efficiently released documents pertaining to President Kennedy’s assassination without need for presidential intervention. If implemented appropriately, the Cold Case Act will match this success, releasing documents more efficiently and securely than FOIA.

For more information about the bill, view our backgrounder.

Press Contact
Mr. Wexler and Hightstown High School’s AP US Government and Politics Class
[email protected]