Civil Rights

Affirmative action still relevant today

The U.S. Supreme Court will shortly rule on two cases regarding affirmative action. Fisher v. University of Texas concerns Abigail Fisher, a white woman who claims that her rejection from the university was influenced by its policy of considering race in admissions decisions. Fisher represents the growing consensus that racial discrimination on any grounds is unacceptable, and a broad ruling on the case could result in the overturning of Grutter v. Bollinger, effectively ending affirmative action at U.S. universities.
The second case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, questions whether Michigan state is violating the Equal Protection Clause by amending its constitution to prohibit race and sex based preferential treatment in public university admissions. At the same time, the Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is being challenged by Shelby County, Ala.

All three cases raise critical questions about the Equal Protection clause: does affording all people with equal consideration necessarily mean treating them in the same way? Do we have a moral obligation to atone for historic discriminations suffered by certain minorities? Does this obligation have an expiry date?


Enough with the Nazi stuff

In the nearly four years that I’ve been with the National Jewish Democratic Council, it seems like at least once a month I draft a press release, blog post or a tweet condemning inappropriate Holocaust references from Republicans. It’s the same thing every time: I see the comment, drop what I’m doing, draft and send our response, and then repeat the process too soon after.
It is deeply saddening that some elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — feel that using the Nazis or the Holocaust to score partisan points is acceptable. It’s not. It’s offensive, and it diminishes the seriousness of the Holocaust when public servants and political leaders are equated with one of the most murderous regimes in human history. 


It’s time to make marriage equality an American tradition

There was a palpable sense of history as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, gave an impassioned closing argument in support of immigration equality for same-sex couples. Other than the sound of fingers clicking keyboards, the packed hearing room was silent. Perhaps the most poignant moment was when Leahy, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act's denial of benefits to same-sex couples, wondered, "Will our grandchildren ask why this law was even on the books?"

While it didn't happen last week, marriage equality is destined to become the law of the land.


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.