Congressional Voting Record Demonstrates Erosion of Bipartisan Support for Civil Rights

Media 01.16,04

Washington – Key votes during the first session of the 108th Congress showed declining bipartisan support for protecting civil rights, according to the Civil Rights Voting Record released today by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition.

Examining 18 floor votes in the U.S. Senate and nine floor votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, the LCCR Civil Rights Voting Record scored senators and representatives on their support for or opposition to civil rights legislation, anti-civil rights judges, or legislation containing important civil rights provisions.

According to LCCR’s report card, just over 20 years ago (97th Congress), 52 senators and 220 representatives voted in support of civil rights issues at least 50 percent of the time. Republicans constituted 34.6 percent and 15.9 percent respectively. This record contrasts sharply with votes in the first session of the 108th Congress where 46 senators and 200 representatives supported civil rights at least 50 percent of the time. Republicans constituted 0 percent and 1 percent respectively.

“In the over 30 years that LCCR has issued its civil rights scorecard on congressional votes, we have not witnessed such a lack of bipartisanship on civil rights,” said Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of LCCR.

“The combination of a conservative president and right-wing leaders in the House of Representatives insisting on lock-step support, Republican control of Congress and the executive branch has resulted in much less bipartisan support for civil rights,” said Zirkin.

“While the protection of civil rights and civil liberties should be a paramount moral value in our democracy, this voting record clearly and sadly demonstrates that protection of civil rights is not high on the agenda of the current congressional Republican leadership,” continued Zirkin.

Zirkin noted that despite the prevailing partisan climate in Congress, there were some encouraging bipartisan victories for civil rights in the first session including Senate approval of a bipartisan amendment to fund election reform implementation, passage of legislation limiting the Federal Communications Commission’s changes in media ownership rules that threaten the likelihood of getting diverse viewpoints through the airwaves, and passage of an amendment in the Senate to block the Department of Labor’s revised overtime rules.

Zirkin said she was extremely disappointed that civil rights victories only occurred in the Senate and only because a core group of largely Democratic Senators blocked what would have amounted to serious setbacks in decades of bipartisan support for civil rights. For example, the defeat of legislation that would allow religious institutions receiving federal funds to discriminate against potential employees and beneficiaries because they are of different religions occurred largely due to Senate Democratic opposition.

“Clearly,” said Zirkin, “we would much prefer a situation in which civil rights enjoys broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. LCCR and its allies will continue to press all members in the House and Senate to defend civil rights.”

While the Voting Record is an important tool in monitoring the actions of Congress, it is important to recognize that it is not the sole reflection of a legislator’s record. The Voting Record is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of any member of Congress.


Attached to this press release is a sampling of LCCR’s legislative priorities for the Second Session of the 108th Congress.

LCCR Priorities for the Second Session of the 108th Congress

·Education – As the nation prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the seminal Brown vs. Board of Education decision, LCCR will be highlighting the continuing barriers that unfairly limit or deny educational access based on factors such as race, national origin, sex, or disability. Inequality in education prevents the nation from fulfilling its true potential, and ensuring equal educational opportunity thus remains one of the civil rights movemen”s highest priorities.

·Election Reform – LCCR will push for full funding for the “Help America Vote Act of 2002” to insure the most inclusive, timely implementation possible.

·Fair and Independent Judiciary – LCCR will continue to oppose the Bush administration’s attempts to pack the courts with judges, appointed for life, who will reverse decades of progress in protecting Americans’ rights.

·Anti-Discrimination Measures – LCCR priorities include supporting anti-discrimination measures that would prohibit redlining, religious discrimination, and discrimination against gays and lesbians; as well as legislation to overturn certain Supreme Court decisions that have weakened civil rights protections.

·Economic Opportunity Issues – Economic opportunity is an area where there is considerable common ground between the civil rights community, the business community, the administration, and even the “economic empowerment” wing of the Republican Party. LCCR hopes that Congress will concentrate on these economic opportunity issues, rather than on reopening civil rights issues settled long ago.

·Executive Branch Enforcement of Civil Rights Laws – In addition to the aforementioned legislative priorities, LCCR believes that the Bush administration must fully and effectively enforce the civil rights laws presently on the books. LCCR will work to ensure that civil rights enforcement agencies are maintaining effective enforcement programs.