Civil & Constitutional Rights
The rights and freedoms of citizens need to be protected. When the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and equal opportunity are unfairly denied to a person or a group of people, it is the role of the federal government to step in and fulfill the promise of America.
I firmly believe that all people deserve equal protection under the law, regardless of who they love. Recent years have seen monumental victories for marriage equality. On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States declared Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. By striking down DOMA, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Constitutional right to equality for all Americans regardless of who they love. The Supreme Court’s decisions exhibit the tremendous progress we have made towards full equality, but we must remain committed to doing all we can to make sure equal opportunity and justice are realities for all Americans.
As the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, one of my top priorities has always been to ensure that we take care of the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces, as well as our veterans, to ensure that they continue to receive the pay and benefits they deserve. That is why I introduced the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act to ensure equal benefits for same-sex spouses in the military. All spouses of those serving in our Armed Services make tremendous sacrifices for our country, and no one should be prevented from receiving hard-earned benefits simply because they are the same sex as their partner.
Protecting Equal Opportunity
Historically, one of the most important duties of the federal government has been creating, improving, and enforcing laws that ensure all citizens have equal access to opportunities to improve their lives. I continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that students feel safe from bullying and discrimination in their schools by cosponsoring the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I have supported laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that ensure women are paid equal to men for doing the same job. I have also supported legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would make it illegal for an employer to hire, fire, promote, or engage in any other personnel decisions based purely on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, sex, disability, gender, or gender identity.
Students have the right to learn without fear of violence or aggression. Similarly, workers should be treated based on their performance, and not fear losing their jobs because of who they are. By instituting these bills into law and securing the civil rights of students and workers, all people will have the opportunity to be successful.
I will continue to work for equal rights for all Americans. The United States is the greatest country in the world and no one should be discriminated against or denied their basic rights here.
Since its passage in 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has served as a benchmark to ensure all Americans’ voices are heard at the ballot box. But on June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated Section Four of the VRA, a provision that protects voting rights in nine states that historically have had discriminatory voting practices. The Supreme Court found that Section Four had an outdated formula that placed undue and outdated federal burden on the nine states.
I was very disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling. By striking Section Four, the Supreme Court limited the federal government’s ability to implement Section Five, consequently rendering this section of the VRA powerless and threatening the right to vote for many Americans. Any state can now implement Voter ID laws and redraw district lines to dilute the voices of large populations of mainly racial and ethnic minorities without federal oversight. In the 2012 election, low income voters and people of color, mainly African American and Latino voters, waited in line to vote twice as long as white voters. Additionally, many local and state laws and policies were put into effect subjecting low-income Americans, especially those of color, to undue electoral burden.
Since first coming to Congress, I have been a strong advocate for voting rights, and remain committed to doing all I can to ensure that no voter experiences discrimination. We need elections where the issues are what matter and campaigns compete on the quality of their ideas. I have taken numerous efforts to protect and expand upon voting rights at the federal level.
- Taking Voter Suppression to Court: Along with 90 of my colleagues, I filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, in support of Section Five of the VRA.
- Empowering Everyone to Vote: Original cosponsor of Rep. John Lewis’ Voter Empowerment Act of 2015, which requires each state to allow online voter registration, in addition to providing grants and other incentives to encourage states to better promote voter registration. The bill also prevents tactics like voter caging, and looks at the ways ballots and registrations are verified. I have also cosponsored H.R. 5488 the Voting Access Act of 2016. It amends the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to establish a set of national standards for the location of polling places during elections to federal office, to ensure that all communities have sufficient access. Recognizing the importance of a modern voting system, I have cosponsored the Verifying Optimal Tools for Elections Act, which establishes grants for states to ensure that they have the capability to update any outdated voting machines.
- Ensuring Voting Rights for Native Communities: Cosponsor of Rep. Terri Sewell’s Voting Rights Advancement Act which increases access to new voting locations on tribal lands, while allowing federal courts to continue protecting voting rights of diverse communities in the face of new and restrictive voting legislation passed by states.
- Offering Alternatives to Voter ID Laws: Cosponsor of the America Votes Act of 2015. Introduced by Congressman Larsen, this bill would allow voters to present a sworn written statement, signed under penalty of perjury, as valid identification to vote in federal elections.
- Celebrating Our Right to Vote: Cosponsor of H.RES.123, a resolution expressing Congressional support for the designation of August 6 as National Voting Rights Day.
- Remembering Our 15th Amendment Rights: Cosponsor of H.RES.601, a resolution recognizing the 146th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits the government from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race.
Fair elections and transparent voting practices will strengthen our nation for generations to come. I will continue to support our election system and fight to protect every voter.
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More on Civil & Constitutional Rights
“On the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), we celebrate one of our country’s most important civil rights laws. As we remember this landmark legislation, we must also denounce the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling. This decision gutted portions of the VRA, allowing states with a history of voter discrimination the autonomy to re-implement discriminatory voting restrictions. In response to the Shelby v. Holder case, I have cosponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“Today, I voted against the Intelligence Authorization Act because of Congress’ lack of progress in negotiating reforms to, and increasing protections included in, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), as well as the rushed manner in which the bill was considered by the U.S. House of Representatives. After attempting to bring the legislation up outside of regular order earlier this week, the House Republican leadership ultimately brought the bill to the House Floor today in a format that still did not allow for any amendments.
“The “Security Minibus” appropriations bill the House is currently debating is completely disconnected from the realities that our country faces and the spending choices we must make. This spending package includes funding for the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Legislative Branch, Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, agencies of the Department of Interior, and several independent agencies.
“This announcement is an unwarranted and disgraceful attack on men and women who have been bravely serving their country. These service members are defending the United States around the world as we speak, and they have long done so with distinction. To prevent transgender people from joining the military and to push out those who have devoted their lives to this country would be ugly and discriminatory in the extreme.
"This decision to delay transgender accession to the military is unjustified and morally wrong. The Defense Department has already studied the issue extensively and found that there are no substantial practical obstacles to allowing trans people to join the military and defend their country. To the contrary, many are already serving in the military and doing so with distinction. The only remaining obstacle is prejudice."
“President Trump's decision to fire FBI director James Comey is deeply disturbing. It comes as Comey is in the midst of an investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. We know the Russians were behind the hacking of DNC emails and that they did so to try and give Trump an advantage in the election.
“Today is Equal Pay Day, 94 days after the new year, and the day when women’s wages finally catch up to what men were paid in the previous year. It is unacceptable that 53 years after passing the Equal Pay Act, women still make 79 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Congress must act now to make equal pay for equal work a reality and close the gender pay gap.
“A primary duty of the United States Government is to protect its citizens, but it is critical that in doing so we do not forget our obligation to protect the privacy and rights of Americans,” said Congressman Smith. “This legislation will provide clear and commonsense legal avenues for the Department of Homeland Security to pursue those who commit crime and wish to do our country harm without infringing on the rights of American citizens. Importantly, it will ensure that American citizens and legal residents returning to the U.S.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that the Trump Administration does not respect local jurisdiction’s understanding of how best to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their residents. The Trump Administration has threatened to revoke or withhold critical public safety funds from communities in a clear act of misguided retribution.
“Congress should not undermine consumer’s privacy. Today, House Republicans voted to undo important privacy protections for internet users. This partisan vote takes away Americans’ choice about whether to allow their personal online information to be used for advertising and marketing purposes.
“Your online information should remain yours unless you agree to share it; it should not be put up for sale without your consent.”