Civil and Human Rights Coalition Announces Legislative Priorities for 112th Congress

Media 01.13,11

Washington, D.C. – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights organizations, has announced its legislative priorities for the 112th Congress.

In a letter sent to the White House and members of Congress, The Leadership Conference highlighted the issues that are at the top of its legislative agenda for the new session. The list includes passage of economic security and job creation measures, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and adoption of a surface transportation bill that helps bring opportunity to low-income and families and communities of color.

The coalition has also reconfirmed its commitment to several of its unrealized priorities from the 111th Congress, including passage of the Paycheck Fairness and DREAM Acts and the confirmation of highly qualified judicial and executive nominees.

“If our country hopes to overcome divisiveness and economic instability, it must meet the needs of the disenfranchised, the working class, and those who have lost hope in their country’s promise of a brighter future,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. “This agenda meets their demands and is supported by most Americans. We look forward to working with Congress on these vital priorities for our nation.”

The full text of the letter is below.


January 12, 2011

The Leadership Conference’s Legislative Priorities for the 112th Congress

Dear Member of Congress:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, we write to share with you our goals for the 112th Congress. These legislative priorities are achievable steps that will immediately help our nation move ever closer to its ideals, and they are key components of our long-range civil and human rights agenda for the 21st century. We urge you to join with us in working toward their enactment.

While the list that follows does not reflect the complete agenda of all of our member organizations, it does highlight the issues that are at the top of the coalition’s agenda. We believe that these goals can and should be met during this Congress.

Economic Security

Overarching The Leadership Conference’s priority issues is the need for economic security for all Americans. We urge Congress to enact measures to create additional jobs and promote broad-based economic recovery, including:

  • Direct job creation with targeted assistance to disadvantaged people and communities, and the provision of tools, such as broadband access, to take advantage of that recovery;
  • Direct assistance that helps those in need and stimulates more jobs, including extended unemployment insurance benefits, strengthening and improving Social Security and SSI, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits, child care assistance, child support funding, and refundable tax credits;
  • State fiscal relief to preserve jobs and vital public services; and
  • Ensuring that the nation’s workforce system is made more responsive to the needs of low-income individuals. This can be accomplished through reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, and the targeting of resources toward moving low-income individuals into high demand jobs that pay family supporting wages.

Reauthorization and Full Funding of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or NCLB)

Congress should reauthorize and fully fund NCLB to ensure (a) equal opportunity for all students to learn and to be college- and career-ready upon graduation; (b) preservation of accountability and improvement of data collection and reporting (including by subgroup); (c) the development of higher standards and better assessments; (d) the reduction of concentrated poverty and racial isolation in schools; (e) the creation of safe and healthy schools that reduce the incidence of bullying, harassment, and the use of disciplinary measures that are associated with lower academic outcomes; (f) that additional resources are targeted for high schools and programs that prioritize vulnerable populations in high-poverty communities; and (g) that parents, educators, and community members are involved at all stages of school improvement, reconstitution, and turn-around.

Judicial and Executive Appointments

The Senate must ensure the prompt confirmation of highly qualified judicial and Executive Branch nominees. We believe it is particularly important to confirm judges who would bring diversity to the federal bench and appointees to executive branch positions which will have responsibility for civil and human rights policies.

Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act

While comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration system remains a vital and long-overdue goal, the DREAM Act also presents an opportunity for much-needed reform that will remove some of the barriers that undocumented young adults – brought into the United States through no fault of their own – face in obtaining a college education and becoming fully contributing members of our society. The DREAM Act would provide a tough but fair path to legal status for young adults who have achieved academic success and have demonstrated a clear willingness to play by the rules. In the 111th Congress, the legislation enjoyed majority support in both the House and the Senate.

Equal Opportunity and Equity in the next Surface Transportation Bill

The next Federal Surface Transportation Authorization bill represents an opportunity to transform neighborhoods throughout our nation into fairer, more equitable communities, and to provide low-income families and communities of color with greater access to quality education, employment, housing, and transportation. The next bill should have strong anti-discrimination provisions and should strengthen, enforce, and tie federal funding to compliance with established minority contracting goals for under-represented businesses in order to ensure diversity.

Equal Pay Legislation

The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House of Representatives in the 111th Congress and received a majority of votes in the Senate, but it was blocked by a procedural maneuver and failed by only two votes. Equal pay for women is vital to working families’ economic security, and the Leadership Conference will continue to make passage of equal pay legislation a top priority in the 112th Congress.

Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act

Designed as a response to the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act amends the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and other federal anti-discrimination and retaliation laws to allow for mixed-motive cases.

Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

CEDAW is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world. The treaty calls for an end to discrimination against women and has been ratified by 186 countries. The Obama Administration supports the ratification of CEDAW as one of its top priorities. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held a hearing on U.S. ratification of CEDAW in November 2010. It has been reported twice from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a bipartisan vote but has never been considered by the full Senate. The Leadership Conference is currently leading a campaign supported by 170 national organizations to urge the Senate to ratify CEDAW, and our efforts will continue in the 112th Congress.

Reform of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Congress should transform the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights into a truly nonpartisan and independent agency, whose mandate is expanded to monitor and investigate the full panoply of civil rights and human rights issues in the U.S. as well as to ensure our domestic compliance with human rights treaty obligations.

End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)

ERPA would 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, and 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. ERPA would also provide a private right of action to victims of racial profiling, thereby giving them the legal tools to hold law enforcement agencies accountable. We will work to identify a Senate champion for ERPA and continue to build support for this legislation and to reintroduce ERPA in the House.

National Criminal Justice Commission Act

This legislation would create a blue ribbon, bipartisan commission tasked with examining the nation’s criminal justice system and devising consensus-based reform recommendations in a number of important areas designed to prevent, deter and reduce crime and violence. The National Criminal Justice Commission would be the first since President Lyndon Johnson’s 1967 Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to take a comprehensive look at the criminal justice system. Legislation to create such a commission has enjoyed steadily increasing bipartisan support, both in Congress and from a broad range of stakeholder groups representing law enforcement, state and local governments, practitioners, academicians, criminal justice reform advocates, and faith-based organizations. It passed the House by voice vote in the 111th Congress.

Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)

Under the JJDPA, 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, JJDPA will help ensure fairness by making government officials more accountable for reducing disproportionate minority contact through policies, practices, and programs within the juvenile justice system. We will continue to build support for legislation like the JJDPA, which was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 111th Congress with bipartisan support, and oppose more punitive legislative approaches that would simply push more and more young people into prisons and jails.

Restoring Voting Rights for Individuals with Criminal Convictions

Congressional action is needed to restore voting rights in federal elections to the millions of Americans who have been released from incarceration, but who continue to be denied the ability to fully participate in civic life. The Democracy Restoration Act (DRA) is federal legislation that seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to the nearly four million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community. The DRA has garnered support from a growing and diverse group of organizations. In 2009, law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, faith organizations, and civil rights organizations all submitted letters to members of Congress in support of the DRA.

Modernizing Voter Registration

Congress should help protect our nation’s most important civil right through legislation designed to achieve universal permanent voter registration of all eligible Americans through such means as automated registration at government agencies, permanent registration, online registration, and fail-safe mechanisms for voters to correct errors in voter registration databases.

Voting Rights and Autonomy for District of Columbia Residents

While we have strongly supported the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act in recent years, the proposal will soon be overtaken in part by the upcoming Congressional reapportionment. The lack of representation in Congress for D.C. residents, however, remains a grave injustice and undermines our nation’s credibility as we attempt to foster representative democracy abroad. We will continue working with our allies in Congress to craft new legislation to remedy the disenfranchisement of the nearly 600,000 residents of D.C., and we urge you to support these efforts. In the meantime, as D.C. residents continue to live under the “taxation without representation” that drove our nation to declare its independence, we urge you to support the District of Columbia Legislative Autonomy and Budget Autonomy Acts, which would give D.C. residents more control over purely local decisions.

Protection of the Affordable Care Act

In the wake of last year’s historic enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congress should ensure that the provisions of the new law are sufficiently funded and properly implemented, particularly with respect to provisions that affect low-income and minority communities. We also urge Congress to oppose any legislative proposals designed to repeal the ACA, in whole or in part.

Increased Funding and Removal of Unfair Restrictions in Legal Services Appropriations

Restrictions in the Legal Services Corporation appropriations have prohibited vulnerable legal aid clients from joining class actions, claiming court-ordered attorneys’ fee awards, or having their lawyers engage in other types of advocacy. These restrictions, starting with the restriction on state, local and private funds, should be removed from the next Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill.

Modernization of the Fair Housing Act

The Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act would extend the civil rights protections of the Fair Housing Act to people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or source of income. It also would provide additional protections for people with disabilities and ensure that recipients of federal housing and community development funding are not perpetuating segregation. These necessary protections, many of which are already provided by a number of states and local municipalities, would eliminate prevalent types of discrimination and help re-establish fairness in our nation’s damaged housing market.

Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act addresses Supreme Court decisions that have undermined existing civil rights laws. Among its most notable and far-reaching provisions, the bill corrects the Supreme Court’s 2001 Alexander v. Sandoval ruling by establishing a private right of action in disparate impact claims against entities receiving federal funding. It also strengthens gender and age discrimination protections, improves remedies for victims of discrimination, prevents employers from forcing workers to bring claims to arbitration instead of the courts, and addresses workplace exploitation of undocumented workers.

Each of these items is important and achievable. In addition to these legislative priorities, we urge you to ensure the full funding of civil rights enforcement activities as the annual appropriations process gets under way. We look forward to working with you and your staff on these critically important issues during the 112th Congress.


Wade Henderson, President and CEO

Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President


The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations 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