The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Table of Contents
On the Hill
- The Americans With Disabilities Act, Act Two
- As Home Foreclosures Climb, Efforts to Help Troubled Homeowners Continue
- The Year in Judicial and Executive Nominations
- Advocating for Federal Leadership on Education
- Facing New Challenges with the 2010 Census
- Modernizing the Federal Poverty Measure
- Piecemeal Legislation, Raids Take Place of Immigration Overhaul
- Below the Surface
- Interview with Kathryn Kolbert
In the Courts
In the States
Leadership Conference Activities
Looking Forward to New Blood in Washington
After eight years of the Bush administration, we in the civil rights community are looking forward to a change in leadership at the federal level that, we hope, will give priority to issues that matter to the nation's most vulnerable citizens.
We also hope that whoever becomes the next president of the United States breaks from the ideological, partisan nature of the Bush administration.
For too long, in nearly every respect, the important work of civil rights has been severely impeded by a Congress that passed very little civil rights legislation because of partisan political maneuvering and an administration hostile to the robust enforcement of existing civil rights laws to ensure equal opportunity and fairness for all Americans.
To be sure, we have had some victories – most notably, the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 by overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate, a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage, and the recent enactment of the ADA Amendments Act, which restores the original intent of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
But there have been far too many instances where political posturing has killed a civil rights bill, where a judicial nominee's clear record of hostility to civil and human rights was ignored in favor of political expediency, or where laws that have been on the books for over four decades have been selectively or poorly enforced by federal agencies for partisan, ideological reasons.
So where do we start?
Determining the priorities of a coalition as large and inclusive as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is hard in any given year. For 2009, we are optimistic about a change that could potentially open up avenues on some or all of the issues that matter so deeply to LCCR's member organizations and their constituents.
We may find ourselves blessed with too many choices.
“[I]t is important to get civil and human rights legislation passed in Congress and signed into law by the president, but it is equally important that there be a strong commitment to enforcing the laws already on the books.”
Congress has to pass the Fair Pay Restoration Act, which will restore the ability of victims of pay discrimination to file suit; pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which will restore the ability of American workers to unionize and ensure that their employers treat them fairly; and pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will provide the resources that local law enforcement needs to fight hate crimes.
In addition, Congress has to address the nation's deteriorating health care and educational systems, repair our broken immigration system in a way that is fair to all Americans, and address the mortgage crisis so that Americans who bought homes in good faith can keep them. Congress must also provide the Census Bureau with every resource they need so that it can count every American and administer the 2010 census successfully.
We know that it is important to get civil and human rights legislation passed in Congress and signed into law by the president, but it is equally important that there be a strong commitment to enforcing the laws already on the books. The civil rights community is committed to working with the next president and his administration to ensure that federal agencies charged with enforcing our nation's laws do their jobs effectively and fairly.
In particular, the new administration faces the challenge of restoring the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to its former position. The scandals that led to the firing of U.S. attorneys destroyed much of America's confidence in federal enforcement of the law, and undermined our sense of justice for all.
That scandal, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Political tampering has gutted the division: with politically motivated hiring; high turnover of long-time career staff in most sections, which led to low morale for those career attorneys who stayed; and an overall lack of enforcement (particularly in voting and employment).
In our 2007 report, "Long Road to Justice," the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights provided a number of recommendations for restoring the Civil Rights Division to its former glory and effectiveness.
- Rid the Civil Rights Division of politicization;
- Promote access to voting by enforcing the Voting Rights Act and other voting statues;
- Combat housing discrimination by enforcing fair housing laws;
- Ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
- Combat employment discrimination;
- Promote and maintain integrated, high-quality schools; and
- Prosecute police misconduct and hate crimes.
Clearly, the deterioration of the division presents challenges that will not be met easily or quickly. But with strong leadership from the new administration and a new attorney general, the Civil Rights Division can be resurrected.
We must also remember that no matter who takes office on January 20, 2009, the work of civil rights will still be hard. It will take political courage from both parties. It will require us to work harder, faster, and smarter. We will need to remind all Americans that civil rights benefit us all.
We have a lot to do.
The Civil Rights Monitor is an annual publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Previous issues of the Monitor are available online. Browse or search the archives