Civil Rights

The right side of history: Making immigration reform truly comprehensive

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years working to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), our nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence. In assessing the evolving needs of survivors of violence when working to reauthorize VAWA, a bill that historically responded to violence in heterosexual relationships, advocates across the country consistently found that one of the greatest needs was the inclusion of LGBT survivors. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced, and stood behind, an LGBT-inclusive VAWA. In February 2013, Congress agreed and passed the bill – including the first ever national LGBT-explicit non-discrimination protections.
Now this same Congress is being called upon to consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill to address the evolving needs of immigrants and their loved ones in the United States. Once again, the question of LGBT inclusion in a fundamental policy in this country has come before Congress. With VAWA, Congress voted definitively for the principle that we could not leave anyone behind – that protection under VAWA had to include everyone who needed the protections of the bill.  With immigration reform, Congress has the opportunity to affirm the principle that they cannot leave any family behind. However, right now, the immigration reform bill fails to affirm that principle: the current proposal is not truly “comprehensive” because it leaves LGBT families behind.


'42' and what it takes to change a nation

There is a scene near the end of the wonderful new movie “42” when Jackie Robinson asks Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey a simple question: “Why did you do it?”  He was asking Rickey why he took the courageous step to break the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947.
Rickey’s response has particular resonance for white pro civil rights Democrats of my generation.

Rickey told a story about how, when he was the player coach of a team at a Methodist college in Ohio 40 years earlier, he had a very talented African-American catcher on his team and how he did nothing to help that catcher pursue his dream to play on a high level. He told Robinson he had regretted his inaction for years and vowed to set things right if he ever had a chance.


Justice Scalia's insulting remark

The two of us sat in utter shock and disbelief most recently as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, with a simply bizarre verbal utterance, insulted an entire race of people, particularly those who have given their lives so that all citizens in this country have the right to cast a ballot in fair and unbiased public elections.

The hurtful words flowed from the lips of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments on February 27 in the case of Shelby County vs. Holder in which the court will decide the future of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The Voting Rights Act revisited

Nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. This case is about whether the federal government can continue to require some states, counties, and cities to request approval or “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department for alterations to their voting laws or congressional maps.

The states, counties, and cities which are required to request “pre-clearance” have been designated as such based on their history of voting discrimination and are covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and includes jurisdictions primarily located in the South, as well as several counties in New York. 


The Voting Rights Act: A continued march toward progress

A few blocks from the U.S. Supreme Court is the National Archives, housing original signed copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and landmark pieces of federal legislation – including the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In front of the entrance to the Archives stand two statues with inscriptions that read “What is Past is Prologue,” and “Study the Past.” We hope all nine justices of the Supreme Court will heed that wisdom as they hear arguments this week about the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.  


GOP votes for gay marriage not a career-ender

A new review of eight states where marriage laws have been recently amended to extend the franchise to gay men and women found that less than half of the Republican lawmakers in those states who supported the effort no longer hold office today, stoking intraparty bickering on whether support for marriage equality is a career-ender for Republicans.

Of the 47 GOP lawmakers who cast decisive votes for gay marriage in the last three years, only 21 remain in office, according to a survey by The Associated Press.

Some retired outright or were felled during Republican primary contests, while many others still were defeated during general election bouts. But the survey nonetheless gave gay-marriage-supporting GOPers a terminal diagnosis.


President's overreach on guns must be stopped

Our nation and our children are safe and secure when law-abiding Americans are allowed to defend themselves without interference from politicians.
Not only have gun bans and anti-gun laws utterly failed to reduce crime or protect innocents, statistics prove anti-gun measures actually increase crime and lead to tragedy.
For example, in the 22 years prior to 1990 federal enactment of “gun-free school zones” there were two terrible mass shootings on school or university campuses.
In the 22 years after the gun ban there were 10.


The meaning and viability of the Thirteenth Amendment

At the heart of Django Unchained and Lincoln -- two critically-acclaimed films that are both up for best drama at Sunday’s Golden Globes -- is slavery.  Django Unchained chronicles the experiences of a freed slave while Lincoln a focuses on the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery. The renewed attention on slavery and the Thirteenth Amendment calls for fuller consideration of the amendment’s specialized meaning and its applicability to contemporary harms.
Enacted in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and several months following Lee’s surrender to Union forces, the Thirteenth Amendment declared that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude. . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”


Reauthorizing VAWA in current form could be grave mistake

The 112th Congress adjourned last week without reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The failure of Congress to pass either the Senate- or House-approved (S. 1925 or H.R. 4970) versions was the by-product both of partisan wrangling, as well as acerbic personal attacks that were later derided by the Huffington Post as “incendiary and extreme.”
But the last-ditch negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and House Leader Eric Cantor side-stepped the most important question of all: Are VAWA-funded programs working?


New Congress should focus on passing VAWA

In a year where we have seen much progress from the White House and from the Department of Justice in addressing the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) survivors of violence, there is one national body that has failed to act. The 112th Congress has left much undone and has been slow to compromise or propose solutions to a myriad of issues and concerns facing the country – including for LGBTQ survivors of violence.