Votes in Congress Demonstrate Erosion of Broad Bipartisan Support for Civil Rights

Media 10.7,04

Washington, DC – Key votes during the 108th Congress showed declining bipartisan support for protecting civil rights, according to the 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 26 floor votes in the U.S. Senate and 19 floor votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, the LCCR Voting Record scored senators and representatives on their support for or opposition to civil rights legislation, legislation containing important civil rights provisions, and judges hostile to civil rights.

According to the report, “Overall, the divisive, pervasive, and continuing partisanship in the 108th Congress has resulted in troubling times for LCCR’s priority issues and for those working to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans. LCCR is eager to return to a time in which civil rights enjoy broad and bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.”

“While the protection of civil rights and civil liberties should be a paramount moral value in our democracy, the voting record of the 108th Congress clearly and sadly demonstrates that protection of civil rights is not high on the agenda of the current congressional majority leadership,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of LCCR.

The report found that compared to the 97th Congress (just over 20 years ago), when 220 representatives and 52 senators voted in support of civil rights issues at least 80 percent of the time, today only 183 House members and 47 senators can be counted on to support civil rights issues at least 80 percent of the time.

“Twenty years ago, approximately 25 percent of Republicans in Congress could be counted on to support civil rights most of the time,” said Henderson, “but today, strong support for civil rights among Republicans has dwindled to zero.”

“It is unfortunate for our increasingly diverse nation that we can no longer count on bipartisan support for protecting civil rights,” said Henderson. “Instead there are those in Congress who have sought to enact a radical social agenda that included the Class Action Fairness Act, the Federal Marriage Amendment, and the Marriage Protection Act, a dangerous precedent to strip the federal courts of the power to review legislation.”.

One example of extreme partisanship and an attack on civil rights was the nomination and confirmation process for federal judicial nominees.

“The Senate leadership was more than willing to rubber stamp President Bush’s nominations of extreme right wing ideologues to our nation’s federal courts,” said Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of LCCR. “It took the strength of a core group of senators to attempt to uphold the Senate’s role of ‘advice and consent’ for federal judicial nominees and to protect the independent judiciary’s ability to uphold civil rights.”

According to the report, despite the prevailing partisan climate in Congress, there were some encouraging victories for civil rights in both the Senate and House, including approval of legislation to strengthen the federal prosecution of hate crimes, support for increased funding for nationwide election system overhaul in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and passage of an amendment to block the Department of Labor’s revised overtime rules.

“While we applaud members of Congress who are standing up for civil rights, the fact that civil rights victories were so few and far between is disheartening,” said Zirkin. “LCCR and its allies will continue to press all members in the House and Senate to defend civil rights.”

Although it is difficult to predict what legislation will be enacted by the end of the session, this sample of bills that have already been considered reflects how members of Congress have voted on key civil rights issues as of October 4, 2004. 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.