On the eve of the President’s State of the Union Address Wednesday, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent Members of the House, Senate, and Administration a letter detailing the civil and human rights community’s legislative priorities for 2010. The letter highlights legislation at the top of the civil rights coalition agenda, including job creation, financial reform, the elimination of cocaine sentencing disparities, and protecting the right of workers to join unions, that The Leadership Conference and its more than 200 member organizations want lawmakers to address in the second half of the 111th Congress.
The Leadership Conference and its sister organization, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, also released their two annual publications – The Leadership Conference’sVoting Record and The Education Fund’s Civil Rights Monitor.
“The civil and human rights community achieved some key victories in the 2009, including the historic passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference. “As we head into the 2010, our coalition will continue to press Congress and the Administration to enact policies to strengthen our civil rights laws and respond with fairness and equity to the critical needs of the American people.”
In sum, The Leadership Conference and its coalition members could count on 237 House members and 55 senators in the 111th Congress to support civil rights issues on 80 percent or more of the votes in the Voting Record, an increase from 229 representatives and 37 senators scoring 80 percent or more in the 110th Congress. The full voting record, including detailed vote tables for all U.S. House and Senate members, is available online.
“As we continue to see the effects of the financial crisis bleed into the lives of working families across the nation, Americans are calling for action in Washington,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference. “The Voting Record lays out accomplishments and victories for the civil and human rights community, and the letter of priorities helps us focus on what needs to be done as we continue to work towards equal opportunity for all Americans.”
The Education Fund’s annual Civil Rights Monitor reviews the state of play for civil rights issues across all three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues.
Note: The Leadership Conference’s legislative ratings cannot indicate the full extent of a legislator’s support for or opposition to the positions of The Leadership Conference and represents neither endorsement nor condemnation of any Member of Congress.
Text from Letter of Legislative Priorities:
The Leadership Conference’s Priorities for 111th Congress, Second Session
Dear Member of Congress:
On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, we write to share with you our key goals for the second session of the 111th Congress. We urge you to join with us in working for these legislative priorities. They represent a clear roadmap that Congress can use to help our nation continue moving closer to its ideals, and to bring about positive changes to all of the communities we represent.
As you may have noticed from our letterhead, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights this month has become The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. We believe that incorporating the term “human rights” into our name honors the legacy and the foresight of our coalition’s founders. The Leadership Conference’s efforts were inspired by not only the promises of our nation’s founding documents, but also the principles articulated by international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, established in the wake of the horrors of World War II. Indeed, while it may have gone by a slightly different name, our nation’s civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s was very much, at its heart, a human rights movement. As we have for 60 years, we look forward to continuing to work with you, under our new name, in pursuit of a better America for all Americans.
While the following list does not reflect the complete agenda of all of our member organizations, it does attempt to highlight those issues that are at the top of the coalition’s agenda. We believe that these goals can and should be met during this session of Congress.
(1) Job Creation
It’s clear that much more must be done to generate millions more jobs to assure a robust recovery that reaches all Americans, including the low-income and minority communities that have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn. Legislation should be enacted to create additional jobs and promote broad-based economic recovery, including:
o Direct job creation with targeted assistance to disadvantaged people and communities;
o Direct assistance that helps those in need and stimulates more jobs, including extended unemployment insurance benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund benefits, child care assistance, and refundable tax credits;
o State fiscal relief to preserve jobs and vital public services.
(2) Financial Services Reform
Last December, the House passed H.R. 4173, a bill that would impose many long-overdue reforms of our financial services regulatory system. We believe that this reform effort must be completed by the Senate and enacted into law before confidence in our nation’s economy can be fully restored. A key component of our financial reform agenda involves the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), to enforce consumer and fair lending laws that existing regulatory agencies largely ignored. It would also improve procedures for dealing with large failed banks, making taxpayer bailouts less likely in the future; enhance the prosecution of investment fraud; hold credit rating agencies more accountable when they issue reckless ratings on investment products; and improve regulation and transparency in the trade of complicated financial derivatives, such as those that brought down AIG and helped fuel the housing bubble.
(3) Confirmation of Executive and Judicial Branch Nominees
We urge the Senate to redouble its efforts to confirm President Obama’s nominations for important leadership positions in the Executive Branch. A number of highly qualified nominees have been unjustifiably blocked, preventing the administration from functioning in its full capacity. Moreover, given the importance of the judicial branch to our nation as well as to our communities, and as there are nearly 100 current vacancies in the federal judiciary, the Senate should move quickly to consider pending judicial nominations.
(4) Implementation of a Fair and Accurate Census
This year, the government is undertaking its decennial census. The Leadership Conference will be monitoring Census 2010 and asks that policymakers work toward a fair and accurate Census. We urge all members to conduct outreach in their district and/or state encouraging their constituents to participate in the 2010 Census. We also urge members to oppose any legislative or grassroots proposals or initiatives designed to suppress the count.
(5) Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Legislation should be enacted that: 1) encourages hardworking undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows by providing a workable path to citizenship; 2) reunites families and eliminates unconscionable family-based immigration backlogs, by providing adequate numbers of visas in all categories; 3) respects the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans and provides immigrants and their families with fair, humane, and common-sense procedures at all levels of the immigration, naturalization, or removal process; and 4) fully protects the rights of all workers regardless of their immigration status. This legislation should also include the DREAM Act and the AgJOBS compromise, two bipartisan pieces of immigration reform legislation that are long overdue.
(6) Employee Free Choice Act
Congress should enact The Employee Free Choice Act, (H.R. 1409, S. 560), which levels the playing field for employees by: (1) providing certification of a union when a majority of workers sign cards designating the union as their bargaining representative (“majority sign-up” or “card check”); (2) strengthening penalties for companies that illegally coerce or intimidate employees in an effort to prevent them from forming a union; and (3) bringing in a neutral third-party to settle a contract when a company and a newly certified union cannot agree on a contract after three months.
(7) Cocaine Sentencing Disparities
We urge Congress to enact a bill that, after more than 20 years, would finally correct a major error in drug policy – the harsh sentencing policy for crack cocaine. The policy, particularly the mandatory minimum for simple possession, subjects those who are low-level participants to the same or harsher sentences as major drug dealers. This has had an especially devastating impact on African-American and low-income communities. Possessing or dealing as little as five grams of crack cocaine, a quantity that yields 10-50 doses, can result in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as dealing 500 grams of powder cocaine, a quantity that yields 2,500-5,000 doses. To combat this disparity, Congress should pass Rep. Scott’s H. R. 3245, Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009, or Senator Durbin’s S. 1789, Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, both of which would equalize the crack and powder penalties at the powder level and eliminate the mandatory minimum for simple possession.
(8) Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
The Obama administration has strongly endorsed as one of its top treaty priorities ratification of CEDAW, a comprehensive human rights treaty to advance the status of women worldwide. The treaty calls for an end to discrimination against women. Ratification would underscore the commitment of the United States to the promotion and protection of women’s rights at home and abroad and enhance the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to lead the international community in drawing attention to and redressing ongoing discrimination against women. CEDAW has been ratified by 186 countries, leaving the United States in the company of just Iran, Sudan, Somalia and three Pacific Islands. The full Senate has never taken up CEDAW, but it has been reported favorably twice from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support.
(9) Voting Representation for DC Residents
The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009 (H.R. 157/S. 160) passed the Senate this spring, and has enough votes to pass the House. Final passage of the Act was derailed following the addition of an amendment (already adopted by the Senate, and proposed in the House, with the strong backing of the National Rifle Association) to overturn firearms laws adopted by the District of Columbia in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. Because the D.C. government has expressed strong concerns about a potential repeal of its gun law, the House leadership delayed action on the DC VRA altogether.
(10) Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
The Leadership Conference has long believed that every American should be judged solely on his or her merits. Yet in most states, it remains legal to reject or fire a worker simply because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3017, S. 1584), prohibits intentional discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and provides Title VII-type remedies for victims of such discrimination.ENDA has enjoyed strong support from Congress as well as from the general public, and its enactment is long overdue.
(11) End Racial Profiling Act
During the last six years, The Leadership Conference worked in coalition with other organizations to build congressional support for the enactment of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). In 2007, the End Racial Profiling Act of 2007 was introduced by Senator Feingold in the Senate and by Congressman Conyers in the House. Similar legislation is expected to be filed in the 111th Congress in early 2010. If enacted, ERPAwould prohibit any local, state, or federal law enforcement agency or officer from engaging in racial profiling. It would condition the receipt of federal money on law enforcement agencies’ efforts to eliminate the practice. ERPA would institute a meaningful enforcement mechanism to ensure that anti-profiling policies are being followed. Law enforcement agencies would be required to collect demographic data on routine investigatory activities, develop procedures to respond to racial profiling complaints, and craft policies to discipline officers who engage in the practice. ERPAwould also provide a private right of action to victims of racial profiling, thereby giving them the legal tools to hold law enforcement agencies accountable.
(12) Arbitration Fairness Act
Congress should enact The Arbitration Fairness Act, (H.R. 1020, S. 931),which wouldend the predatory practice of forcing employees and consumers to sign away their rights to legal protections and access to the courts by making pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration unenforceable in civil rights, employment, consumer, and franchise disputes.
(13) Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002(NCLB) has played a significant role in exposing the breadth of educational disparities and changing the national debate around education reform. However, the law requires major improvements if it is to accomplish its goal of ensuring that all children receive a quality education. Most importantly, the law must be fully funded. There are also substantive improvements that need to be made, including ensuring that student performance on tests and graduation rates are reported in a way that may be cross-tabulated to allow evaluation of refined subgroups of students, improving the law’s treatment of English Language Learners and other students with special needs, promoting anti-bias education and hate crime prevention initiatives to combat youth-related hate violence,addressing the graduation rate crisis afflicting low-income and minority students, and helping districts to recruit, train, and retain highly qualified teachers, especially in hard-to-staff schools. We urge Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Actto preserve accountability, spur the development of higher standards and better assessments, and increase funding and support for students, schools, and teachers.
(14) Protecting Older Workers against Discrimination Act.
Designed as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, the Protecting Older Workers against Discrimination Act, (H.R. 3721, S. 1756), amends the Age Discrimination Act and other federal anti-discrimination and retaliation laws to allow for mixed motive cases. We urge Congress to pass this critical legislation.
(15) Ending Housing Discrimination and Promoting Integration
More than 40 years after the federal Fair Housing Act became law, there are still four million incidents of housing discrimination every year. Although the Fair Housing Act makes housing discrimination illegal, non-profit organizations and federal, state, and local governments need more tools and funding to enforce it. The Housing Fairness Act (H.R. 476)would enable HUD to administer a systemic national investigation and enforcement program by partnering with qualified private fair housing centers across the country. In addition, Congress should amend the Fair Housing Act to add protected classes and establish a more effective enforcement structure.
(16) Hate Crimes Prevention Implementation
In the wake of last year’s historic enactment of the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” Congress should ensure that the provisions of the new law are fully funded and properly implemented. This implementation should include, in partnership with Justice Department and FBI officials, the new training, education, and hate crime data collections aspects of the law. In addition, Congress should fund anti-bias education, anti-bullying and cyber-bullying initiatives, and hate crime prevention initiatives as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
(17) Health Care Reform
In 2010, The Leadership Conference will continue to push Congress to complete action on comprehensive health insurance reform legislation while maximizing any opportunities to strengthen the final bill during conference. We do not expect there will be significant action on other health bills in the coming months, although we will continue to monitor any movement on the minority health bills.
(18) Enact the Open Access to Courts Act/Notice Pleading Restoration Act
Designed to reverse the Supreme Court’s rulings in Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Open Access to Courts Act, (H.R. 4115), amends Title 28 of the United States Code to prohibit courts from dismissing complaints under Rule 12 unless the court determines that “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim which would entitle the plaintiff to relief.” The Notice Pleading Restoration Act (S. 1504), prohibits courts from dismissing claims under 12(b)(6) or (e) except under the standards of Conley v. Gibson, a Supreme Court case which upheld the sufficiency of notice pleading.
(19) Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)
Every year there are over two million juvenile arrests, over 100,000 youth under juvenile justice supervision, and many thousands more who are under the custody of the criminal justice system. There is no need to incarcerate a child for skipping school or other “status offenses.” Juvenile justice systems must do everything possible to ensure that children and youth in the justice system are treated in an age-appropriate, culturally appropriate, and linguistically appropriate manner. The juvenile justice system must provide developmentally appropriate, evidenced-based services and supports. Under Senator Leahy’s S. 678, having a bipartisan group of seven co-sponsors, states would be required to assess and address the disproportionate contact of youth of color at key points of contact in the juvenile justice system – from arrest to detention to confinement. Most importantly, JJDPAwill help ensure fairness by making government officials more accountable for reducing disproportionate minority contact through policies, practices, and programs within the juvenile justice system.
(20) Paycheck Fairness Act
The Paycheck Fairness Act, (S. 182), increases the ability of plaintiffs and enforcement agencies to address discriminatory pay by: (1) requiring employers to meet higher standards to prove the defenses available to equal pay claims; (2) protecting workers who inquire regarding their colleagues salaries; (3) providing DOL and the EEOC with tools to monitor wages in the workplace to allow them to target discriminatory employers for enforcement; (4) bringing the damages available under the Equal Pay Act in line with those available for wage discrimination under § 1981. The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12) passed the House in January 2009.
(21) Reversal of Alexander v. Sandoval
The Supreme Court’s 2001 Alexander v. Sandoval decision refused to recognize a private right action against entities receiving federal funding based on evidence of disparate impact under Title VI. This decision severely restricts the ability of individuals to ensure that government funds are spent in a non-discriminatory manner. The legislation has not yet been introduced this Congress.
(22) Reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is an essential part of the nation’s safety net, but the current recession has exposed its weaknesses. While unemployment and poverty soared, TANF caseloads stayed stagnant or rose only slightly. Indeed, in some states, TANF caseloads continued to decline more than a year into the recession. The TANF caseload decline is not because of lack of need or unwillingness to seek help; over the same period, Food Stamp (now SNAP) caseloads rose by over 20 percent. With unemployment and poverty expected to remain high for years to come, especially among those facing barriers to employment, reauthorizing and improving TANF is an urgent priority. Recommendations include:
- Reorienting the program’s goals and incentives toward the reduction of poverty and the provision of services to those most in need;
- Expanding access to education and training and other needed services;
- Strengthening due process protections to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory sanctions; and
- Providing adequate funding for TANF and related programs, including child care assistance and child support enforcement.
(23) Reform of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
The current United States Commission on Civil Rights has, time and again, betrayed its core mission to investigate and diagnose the state of civil rights in our nation. Bringing discredit to a body that once championed our most transformative civil rights reforms, the current commission has transparently used the body’s former prestige to advance an agenda driven by ideological goals rather than truth-seeking. Congress should enact legislation to reform the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights into a truly nonpartisan and independent civil and human rights monitoring and investigatory agency. Recommended changes include:
- Expanding the mandate of the commission to address civil and human rights issues, including discrimination against the LGBT community;
- Signifying the change in mandate by renaming the body the U.S. Commission on Civil and Human Rights;
- Changing the commission’s membership to seven appointees, all nominated by the president and subject to confirmation by the Senate;
- Maintaining the commission’s subpoena power as an essential tool for its mandate; and
- Ensuring the commission collaborates with state and local governments and supports the work of human rights commissions around the country
(24) Voter Registration Modernization
As evidenced by the most recent election, as well as previous elections, our nation continues to face both old and new barriers to ensuring the right of all Americans to vote and to have their votes count. While there are many improvements Congress should make to our nation’s electoral systems, we believe that achieving automatic and permanent voter registration of all eligible Americans will go a long way to addressing many of the most significant problems. Congress should pass legislation creating an affirmative duty for government to register eligible voters and establishing Election Day fail-safe registration.
(25) Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act of 2009 (CRA) is a comprehensive bill designed to address several Supreme Court decisions that have undermined existing civil rights laws. Among its provisions, the CRA corrects the Supreme Court’s 2001 Alexander v. Sandoval decision by establishing a private right of action against entities receiving federal funding based on evidence of disparate impact. The bill also strengthens gender and age discrimination protections, improves remedies for victims of discrimination, prevents employers from forcing workers to bring workplace claims to arbitration instead of the courts, and addresses workplace exploitation of undocumented workers. The legislation has not yet been re-introduced this Congress.
We look forward to working with you and your staff on these critically important issues during the second session of the 111th Congress. Please contact Executive Vice President Nancy Zirkin at (202) 263-2880, or Counsel Rob Randhava at (202) 466-6058, if you would like to discuss the above issues or any other issues of importance to The Leadership Conference.
President & CEO
Executive Vice President
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund builds public will for federal policies that promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. The Education Fund’s campaigns empower and mobilize advocates around the country to push for progressive change in the United States.