Civil Rights: In Depth
Our Constitution enshrines the core American value that all people are equal before the law. Since coming to Congress, I have worked to extend equal rights to every citizen.
Voting is a defining act of American citizenship, and we need to do more to ensure everyone can exercise that fundamental right. In Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act: the formula that compelled specific states with a history of voting discrimination to approve their electoral changes and requirements with the federal government. Congress must now draft a new formula to revive the Voting Rights Act. I have cosponsored multiple bills to address this issue, and will continue doing everything I can to get a remedy passed into law as quickly as possible so every American will have an equal opportunity to vote.
As a member of the Congressional Equality Caucus, I am immensely proud of the progress we have made towards ensuring equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. In my first term, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy so that our men and women in uniform can serve openly and honorably in our Armed Forces.
I was also honored to join my Democratic Colleagues – and some Republicans – in signing Amicus Curiae, or “friend of the Court,” briefs supporting LGBT rights in the Supreme Court cases that repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed gay couples nationwide to marry.
Despite this important progress, there is more work to do. In many states, it is still legal for employers, creditors, public housing officials, education administrators and jurors to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I am a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would prohibit this kind of discrimination by expanding the Civil Rights Act to LGBT Americans. We have made tremendous progress in extending equal rights to LGBT Americans, and working together I am confident we can do even more.
Equal Rights for Women
As a father of two girls, I’m committed to a future where my daughters are given the same opportunities and treated with the same amount of respect as men.
I was proud to cast one of my first votes in Congress for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to restore a woman’s right to challenge unfair pay. However, pay disparity remains an issue. That is why I have cosponsored Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s Paycheck Fairness Act in each session of Congress in which I’ve served. This bill allows the victims of gender-based pay discrimination equal claim for civil action as those receiving discriminatory pay based on race. It also expands the basis by which discrimination can be claimed by broadening pay comparison methods and protects employees who discuss pay information with each other from retaliation by their employer.
There are few issues more divisive or personal than that of reproductive rights. I am fiercely supportive of reproductive freedom and have stood against efforts by the House Majority to roll back that freedom. I believe that women must be able to make their own decisions about their health without fear of government intrusion. That is why I have consistently cosponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit any current or future state laws that impose medically unnecessary requirements or restrictions on reproductive services.
I also believe there is more we can and must do to achieve the goals shared on both sides of this issue. I have and will continue to support efforts to reduce unplanned pregnancies through the availability of critical family planning services and access to comprehensive sex education. Through common-sense efforts, I hope to find opportunities to put differences aside and work in common purpose to ensure that potential parents are empowered to make good choices and every child grows up in a stable, loving family.
Criminal Justice Reform
There is an emerging bipartisan consensus in Congress that we must reform our criminal justice system. Today, the U.S. currently houses 25% of the world’s prison population – 2 million of whom are nonviolent offenders. Young men of color are far more likely to be searched, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white people guilty of the same crimes. Our prisons are over capacity, our state and federal corrections budgets are ballooning, and far too many families have been torn apart by this broken system.
These are critical, structural problems, and no one policy change will prove to be a magic bullet. I believe, however, that the answer lies in ending mandatory minimum sentencing, focusing law enforcement resources on violent crime rather than simple drug possession, emphasizing rehabilitation over simple incarceration, and facilitating successful reentry into society after paying one’s debt to society.