Friday, June 11, 2021

The Equality Act, et al.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA)

Democracy is in peril. Though it has yet to fully register as the national story it deserves to be, America is currently in the throes of what may well be the most concerted effort at voter suppression and discrimination in living memory. Since the beginning of the year, Republican state legislators have introduced a deluge of new laws intended to restrict voting, suppress traditionally non-Republican constituencies, and overturn election results. These laws represent the greatest assault on voting rights since the end of Reconstruction. If you look at the number of bills introduced, the number of bills passed, and the intensity of the effort behind it, I don't think we've seen anything like this since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Many of these efforts were blocked under the Voting Rights Act — and since the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013, voter suppression has gotten worse. But this seems to be the worst it's been in the past decade. 

It's not like this is the first time there have been efforts to suppress the vote, but we are seeing a greater number of efforts at suppression, more restrictive bills than before, and more intensity within the Republican party to pass them. On a national level, Republicans in Congress refuse to support the For the People Act (also known as H.R. 1), which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Republican know that they cannot win the majority of elections if free, fair, and accessible elections are allowed to occur. The GOP knows that they are a minority party led by extremists who fear true democracy. It is not election fraud that Republicans fear; they fear easier access to the polls. The 2020 election proved their worst fears: if people are given greater voting access, Republicans will remain in the minority. So, they are doing everything possible to make it more difficult to vote.


In addition, thirty-three states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, with advocacy groups calling 2021 a record-breaking year for such legislation. LGBTQ+ people in America continue to face discrimination in their daily lives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, we continue to see state legislatures advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate. With an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ measures sweeping through state legislatures across the country, 2021 is on the cusp of surpassing 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history, according to new tracking and analysis by the Human Rights Campaign.


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last month that the Senate could take up the Equality Act, which would enshrine legal protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, in June. Still, it's not yet clear whether the Senate will consider the House-passed bill during Pride month. The Equality Act, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service. The Supreme Court's June 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, protects gay and transgender people in matters of employment, but not in other respects. The bill would also expand existing civil rights protections for people of color by prohibiting discrimination in more public accommodations, such as exhibitions, goods and services, and transportation.


Twenty-nine states do not have laws that explicitly shield LGBTQ Americans from discrimination, resulting in a patchwork of protections that vary from state to state. The Equality Act would extend protections to cover federally funded programs, employment, housing, loan applications, education, and public accommodations. In addition, the Equality Act would prevent discrimination under federally funded programs based on sex or sexual orientation, including barring discrimination by faith-based organizations that receive federal funding, such as Catholic Charities, which has refused its adoption services to same-sex couples in the past. Senator Joe Manchin, the problem child of Democrats in the Senate, is the lone Democrat who is not a co-sponsor of the bill. Manchin said in 2019 that he would not support the bill without changes, explaining at the time that he was "not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools." I personally believe that any tax-exempt faith-based organization that involves itself in politics, then it should lose its tax-exempt status. Politics and discrimination have no place in religion, and it is time for religious institutions to realize this. Furthermore, I don’t believe any political and partisan organization should be tax-exempt. If you’re non-partisan and don’t discriminate, then you can have tax-exempt status.


The protections offered by the Equality Act are broadly popular among most Americans. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 76% of Americans support protections for LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodation. Although support is stronger among Democrats and independents, the poll found that most Republicans, 62%, also support anti-discrimination laws. Advocates argue that given the popularity of anti-discrimination measures even among Republicans, senators from GOP-dominant states should vote with their constituents on the issue. However, we have found out from the Republican Party that they do not care about the majority of their constituents. They want to restrict access to the ability to vote, especially for people who disagree with them. They also do not care what even those who largely agree with them want. For example, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 without a single vote from a Republican, even though most Republican voters supported the stimulus bill. Even though they all voted against it, Republicans across the country have promoted elements of the legislation they fought to defeat.


The opposition to the For The People Act and the Equality Act are not the only threats to democracy. The Washington, D.C. Admission Act (and the possibility of the admission of Puerto Rico as a state) and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 would also expand democracy and safety for minorities in the United States. Republicans know that if Puerto Rico became a state, it would likely add five members with full voting rights to the House of Representatives and two members to the Senate, which would likely result in an almost guaranteed seven electoral votes in a presidential election. Since the House of Representatives is limited to 435 members under the Reapportionment Act of 1929, Minnesota, California, Texas, Washington and Florida would each lose one electoral vote. Washington, D.C. would likely get one Representative, giving it three electoral votes, which are also almost guaranteed to be cast for the Democratic nominee in a presidential election.


The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021would hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies. To me, the most essential provision of this bill is that it will establish a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions. Currently, there is no such registry. As a result, if a law enforcement officer does something that warrants misconduct and disciplinary action and is dismissed from one department and applies for another, there is no way to know why they left their former employment. Furthermore, nothing requires their former employer to report misconduct to a new employer. In fact, current laws discourage a former employer from making any statements that might be seen as derogatory about their former employee.


To get any of this done, the Senate must reform or get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster is an archaic rule that the House of Representatives did away with in 1888. By the way, it was Republicans who ended the filibuster in the House. Democrats tried to bring it back in 1891 when they regained control, but Republicans used the reinstated filibuster to such frustrating effect that Democrats had no choice but to re-abolish it two years later. Opponents of abolishing the filibuster in the Senate often claim that the filibuster was part of the original design of the Senate. It was not. In fact, the traitor Aaron Burr introduced the idea of the filibuster in the Senate in 1805, and the Senate enacted it in 1806. But no Senator used it until 1837, when it was used for the first time. 


The Senate has been a problem to democracy from its beginning. The so-called “Great Compromise” (aka the Connecticut Compromise) was never popular with our Founding Fathers. It passed at the Constitutional Convention by one vote, 5–4–1. If we are talking about majority will, this was not a good example. Those five state delegations voting in favor did not represent most state delegations because 12 states sent delegates to the convention. Although there were thirteen states, Rhode Island did not send any delegates. The Senate has always been an elitist institution. State legislatures initially chose senators, but that ended in 1913 with the Seventeenth Amendment, which established the direct election of United States senators in each state.


The Senate's operations result in partisan paralysis due to its preponderance of arcane and undemocratic rules. The Constitution specifies a simple majority threshold to pass legislation, and the filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the document. Representation in the Senate is not proportional to the population and is "anti-democratic" and creates "minority rule." The Senate, like the rest of the U.S. government, does not represent minorities well. The approximately four million Americans that have no representation in the Senate (in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories) are heavily African and Hispanic American. D.C. and the territories at least have nonvoting delegates in the House. While we cannot get rid of the Senate, it is the most undemocratic institution in the American government, followed closely by the Electoral College. 

Reforms are desperately needed, and the laws mentioned above need to be enacted at all costs. We are guaranteed just under two years to have a majority in both houses of Congress. Someone needs to get Democratic Senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have frustrated Democrats with their defense of the filibuster. The Senate has to be made more democratic, and while the Seventeenth Amendment was a start, more needs to be done to promote equality in America.


BosGuy said...

I take great heart and hope that in the face of adversity and discriminatory laws passed in several states to make voting more difficult, that it may create a backlash. I also hope that the current administration can do something or that courts may strike down some of these laws.

However, what the U.S. really needs is a few more Stacey Abrams; preferably of the Latino variety in TX and FL.

Joe said...

BosGuy, I, too, hope there will be a major backlash against the anti-democratic actions of the GOP. The voting laws passed make voting more difficult but not impossible. With determination and motivation, I hope the people these laws are meant to target will get out and vote in even greater numbers.

I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be more Stacey Abrams types who will inspire minority groups to get out and vote in greater numbers. If we could elect just one or two more Democrats in the Senate, Manchin would not have so much control over the Democratic agenda in Congress.

JiEL said...

As always, I'm not surprised that those «white supremacist party» is still stopping any =voting rights when it give the colored people of USA equal rights than any whites.

The whole world is watching, here in Canada too, how USA is still struggling to be a REAL democracy. Since 2017, we saw how this 45th president and his minions have the will to impose the supremacy of white-wealthy-straight-Evangelical Christians to maintain the old US 1950's almost racist supremacy on all level of US governance.

The surge of all those anti black and racist groups since the KKK and with the magaphone of internet is growing and led for one example to the «Big Lie» and January 6 insurection.

What led also to this is the ignorance of some who are following blindlessly any ideas that show that the white people rights are at stake because of the fear of the «new» USA demography.
Not surprising that those «Retrumplicons» are fighting back like hell bercause they see that their decades of being in power is shrinking as USA's demography changes and also as more Americans are more educated and aware of what is going on.

You might have achieved in the past so many great things as a nation, technology, men on the moon etc. but the next challenge for you is to prove to the rest of the world that USA is still the flag ship and beeken of DEMOCRACY.

Since two years here in Canada, we have a «minority» Liberal party governemnt but the 4 other opposition parties are working things with Justin Trudeau's governement to pass laws and actions to help Canadians to have a good life even with the pandemic and its bad consequences on us.

The other difference is that here in Canada we have a very solid voting system in all levels of governements and that NO ONE is being put appart as long as he or she is a Canadian over 18yo.
Our voting lists are constantly updated and no need to register because the government alreadt have our datas in many ways like birth certificates, income taxe datas and our social security code etc.

So many is to be done in USA to update your old democracy to the 21st century challenges and to show the world that the «American Dream» isn't only for white people but ALL who wants to achieve it no matter color, sexual orientation and religion.

VRCooper said...

Yes...Racism is baked into our constitution...We have to move forward and build laws to protect our democracy...In the 21st century "norms" can no longer be effective...We need our protections hardwired...I could go off on many different tangents but I will say this...What has been cultivated since the Regan era is not working for the common man...For you and I...Our democracy is for all, not just the rich and well-connected...I see it and the hate and thirst for power and money in others prevent them from seeing it...But if one has to cheat, stop folks from voting, gerrymander the hell out of a county-do you see some of those crazy assed districts-accept dark money, worrying about maintaining ones' office... Then it is time to be like Jesus in the temple with the money changers-I am not religious-and upset the proverbial cart...Lay a foundation of laws that benefit all citizenry...

PS-The word "colored people" is outdated and offensive to some. How about people of color?

Anonymous said...

Pardon my ignorance...perhaps you meant beacon of democracy. The USA since its founding in 1776 has been a democratic republic. Never a democracy.

JiEL said...

@VRCooper & Anon,

Sorry for my errors for «colored people» and «beeken» as my mother language is French from P. of Québec. I might sometimes do some bad writing but I'm sure you understood it anyways.

PS.- I would be curious to see how is YOUR French.... LOL! ;-)

Joe said...

I would just like to add that, yes, the United States is a representative democracy (voters elect representatives to govern), not a direct democracy (voters decide on policy initiatives directly), making it a republic. This has actually been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. People in the United States have used republic and democracy interchangeably thought our history, and it's too difficult to convince the majority of Americans to know the difference, even though we teach it in civics classes. With that being said, we are based on democratic principles, at first in theory and later in practice, as we expanded those democratic principles with the 15th, 17th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments to the Constitution. We have to keep working to continue safeguarding the right to vote and the ability to vote.