Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Agenda for the New Congress

By Gabriela Meléndez Olivera

This week’s midterms should send a strong message to the political establishment that when our civil rights and civil liberties are on the line, American voters will step in. Decision-makers should be taking close note of Tuesday’s sky-high turnout, an unprecedented wave of victories for diverse candidates, and a slew of local milestones for voting rights, criminal justice, and more.

We’re here to help guide them. Below is an initial to-do list for the members of the 116th Congress. It encompasses just some of our priority bills that members should take up to help protect and expand our civil liberties.


Tuesday night was proof that when voters are asked directly to vote on racial and discriminatory policies, they uphold the American values of liberty and justice for all. In the electoral fights where the ACLU, partners, and activists made equality the threshold question for voters, voters sided with the Constitution.

Oregonians defeated an anti-immigrant ballot measure, reaffirming no one should be targeted based on the color of their skin, their accent, or their perceived immigration status. Voters in Wake County, North Carolina stood against Trump’s deportation and detention force. Kansans refused to promote Trump accomplice Kris Kobach — notorious for his assaults on immigrants and voting rights — to governor.

To continue the momentum, the 116th Congress must rein in the unchecked abuse of immigrants by Trump’s detention and deportation force. By pushing for deep cuts to the Department of Homeland Security’s massive budget, which disproportionately allocates funds to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, we will effectively defund these sub-agencies that serve as vehicles for implementing Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. Instead of criminalizing immigrants, militarizing the border, building a border wall, and denying due process protections for immigrants, Congress should focus on permanent protections for long-time U.S. residents like Dreamers and recipients of Temporary Protected Status.

Elected officials must also hold hearings and investigations into national crises of Trump’s making: family separation, detention abuses, and the entanglement of federal immigration with state and local law enforcement.

Voting rights

Despite this week’s major rights victories, we still have a long way to go to ensure our electoral system is fair and accessible to everyone eligible to vote.

There are several vehicles Congress can advance to that end. The Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore protections that prevent and combat racial discrimination in voting in all elections. It would expand and modernize access to voting by advancing automatic, universal, online, and same-day voter registration; early voting and vote by mail; improvements for voters with disabilities; poll worker recruitment and training; and much more.

Building on last night’s success of Amendment 4 in Florida, which restores voting rights to 1.45 million formerly incarcerated individuals in that state, Congress can restore the right to vote in federal elections to another 4.7 million people in our country who have paid their debt to society.

Congress should also hold oversight hearings on the unprecedented number of voter suppression practices that have infected the electoral process — and our democracy — across the country.

Women’s rights

It’s time to press forward with efforts to protect working women — and everyone else — from sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination and abuse in congressional offices and other U.S. workplaces.

The Congressional Accountability Act should be reformed to make working conditions better for congressional staffers, several of whom have come forward with horrific stories of abuse. This bill would create new rules to support and empower victims of harassment in the legislative workforce and increase accountability and transparency so that abuse doesn’t go unchecked.

LGBTQ Rights

With the Trump Administration continuing its crusade to dramatically roll back protections for transgender people through an extremely narrow definition of sex, it’s more important than ever that federal law explicitly protect LGBTQ people and include them in civil rights laws.

The Equality Act would provide comprehensive, nationwide civil rights protections to LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as filling gaps in the Civil Rights Act for women and people of color. The Equality Act would also ensure real, lived equality for LGBTQ people in many of the areas they are still vulnerable: housing, employment, and education.

Criminal Justice

It’s long past time to reimagine our justice system as one that ensures fairness and equity at all stages: from policing to pretrial, sentencing to reentry. The 116th Congress can take an important step in that direction by passing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which combines sentencing and prison reform to reduce mass incarceration in the federal prison system. The SRCA would reduce enhanced penalties that apply to people with prior drug convictions, eliminate “three-strikes” mandatory life without parole sentences for drug offenses, and give judges more discretion not to impose mandatory minimum sentences to help ensure they are not applied to individuals who have little or no criminal history.

This is just the beginning. There’s much more for a new Congress to do. It should also, among other things, protect workers across industries from abuse and harassment; guarantee access to safe and legal abortion for women nationwide; protect consumer privacy; and reform the government’s surveillance powers.

As always, we’ll be monitoring the activities of our congressional representatives and reporting back to their constituents.

More information on the ACLU’s congressional agenda is here. Gabriela Meléndez Olivera is the Political Communications Manager, ACLU

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Keith O

     It would expand and modernize access to voting by advancing automatic, universal, online, and same-day voter registration

    What could possibly go wrong there?  Democrats like it when fraudulent people vote because they know their cheating helps them.

    Look at the current situation in Broward and Palm Beach counties where Democrats are breaking the law and trying to steal the election they’ve already lost.  Tens of thousands of magical ballots are showing up out of thin air.

    1. Don Shor

      Tens of thousands of magical ballots are showing up out of thin air.

      Absentee ballots are still coming in. In most places that I’m aware of, a ballot that is postmarked on election day is still valid. Broward County is the most populous county and went heavily for Gillum (68% for Gillum to 31.3% for DeSantis). It is very logical that continued counting of those ballots would likely work to his favor.
      I don’t think they’ve actually even finished counting the ballots in Yolo County yet, since valid ballots could still be arriving today.

      Democrats are breaking the law

      Prove it.

      1. Keith O

        On Thursday, Florida Senator Marco Rubio sounded the alarm over potential voting law violations in Broward County and Palm Beach County, two “Democrat strongholds” in Florida, which were still counting early voting and vote-by-mail ballots two days after the election, despite Florida law requiring counties to report within 30 minutes of the polls closing.

        1. Eric Gelber

          As long as they’re looking into election improprieties and vote counts, could you ask them to pick up where they left off in 2000? Asking for my friend Al.

        2. Eric Gelber

          You do realize that not meeting a deadline does not mean fraud. Voters have the right to have their votes counted, regardless of any potential incompetence of local county officials.

        3. Keith O

          Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes already has a record of breaking the election laws in Broward County.

          The election supervisor in Florida’s second-most populous county broke the law by destroying ballots cast in last year’s congressional primary involving Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, according to election-law experts across the political spectrum. The congresswoman’s opponent has sued to get access to the ballots.


        4. Eric Gelber

          You won’t find me defending Florida election officials. But neither the prior finding of a violation of federal election law (premature destruction of hard copies of ballots, while maintaining electronic copies), or the current allegation of missing a deadline, has anything to do with miscounting votes or altering the outcome (as the U.S. Supreme Court did in 2000).

        5. Keith O

          But destroying actual ballots which could’ve been altered before electronic copies were made and were supposed to be kept because of an official records request is against the law.

          The SCOTUS didn’t give the election to Bush in 2000, Bush was still leading in votes when the SCOTUS made its decision.  As my friend George would say, Quit yer cry’in.

        6. Jeff M

          By the way, can we conservatives get some advice for how we march and protest the results of the election for what we lost?  Were do I get those professional signs printed?   I am thinking we need some change to the election process because it is so unfair.

      2. Keith O

        I found this comment on another venue:

        Brenda Snipes democrat, Election Supervisor Broward County, Fl A judge found in August that Snipes improperly handled mail-in ballots, and ordered her not to open mail-in ballots in secret after the Republican Party complained. Snipes’s defense rested on a claim that she didn’t know what the word “canvassing” meant, even though she is on the county’s Canvassing Board. In May, a judge found that Snipes’s office broke the law by destroying ballots in the 2016 race between Wasserman Schultz and a liberal college professor who ran for Congress challenging Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz from the left, Canova. “So we put in a public records request to inspect some of the ballots, and if inspecting the paper ballot matched up, then it’s done, it will satisfy everyone,” Canova told TheDCNF. ” But the supervisor of elections stonewalled me for months.” “I was told they didn’t have scanned images, even though on election night they put the ballots through a scanner. So we filed a discovery request to see the paper ballots,” he continued. “Three days later [Snipes] signed an order to destroy the ballots and certified that they were not the subject to ongoing litigation.” “Her excuse was she just signed anything put in front of her and didn’t read it,” Canova said. “Then she said the ballots were put in the wrong place and that’s why they were destroyed. She concealed the destruction for two weeks.” Snipes’s position is an elected one, and she is a Democrat. Nov 8th, Caught On Video: Concerned citizen sees ballots being transported in private vehicles & transferred to rented truck on Election night. This violates all chain of custody requirements for paper ballots. Were the ballots destroyed & replaced by set of fake ballots? Investigate now! Rubio, “Bay County was hit by a Cat 4 Hurricane just 4 weeks ago, yet managed to count votes & submit timely results,” the Florida Republican continued. “Yet over 41 hours after polls closed Broward elections office is still counting votes?” Rubio also pointed out that Snipes “doesn’t know how many ballots are left to be counted” and that she isn’t regularly reporting results, which are “chipping away at GOP leads.”

    2. Howard P

      Several comments…

      Not “absentee”, but VBM (vote by mail)… anyone can choose that, in CA… even to the extent as… primary method in Oregon, and, now, I hear, in Washington State.

      In many states, if there is a close vote, upon request from anyone, recounts ARE REQUIRED BY LAW! I believe that is the case in Florida.

      Election night is not final count… in CA, counties have ~ 28-30 days to validate and process VBM’s and provisional ballots… called, usually ‘canvassing’.  Election officials need to verify signatures for both, and determine if they (ballots) are legit.  Only after all that processing is complete, are results “certified”. Florida is classic case… sure they have provisional and VBM ballots that are still being processed/validated.

      Ironically, in FL, Republicans thwarted the process, and whined to the Supreme Court to stop the process… had they not, Al Gore may have become President.  The Supremes punted, in a very questionable opinion…

      Florida also is responsible for f’ing things up so bad (hanging chads, “dimples” etc.) that perfectly good mechanical voting methods (like those used in Yolo County, prior), were declared unlawful.  Stupid, as those devices were not capable of having either “hanging chads” nor “dimples”.  Thank you, Republicans for THAT!

      The Republican candidate for Governor, in Georgia, who was Secretary of State (thereby making the call on validity of ballots) thwarted the normal voting processing… enough to provoke a Judge to essentially say “knock that  s(tuff) off!”

      So, Keith, you are spewing “s(tuff)”…



      1. Howard P

        Then, by your definition, you are a fraudulent person… deceitful… (see my earlier post)

        I had 5 folk (in particular) in my polling place who wanted to vote, but were not in the list of voters… all were white citizens… all were 20-40… as I tried to find out why they were not on the list, turns out none had ever registered to vote in Yolo county… one (the young female) told me “well, no one ever told me that I needed to register when I moved (from Ukiah)” [which she said with a VERY indignant tone] … yeah… right…

        One insisted on voting, anyhow… voted ‘provisionally’, even after I told him that it was unlikely that County Elections would even open the ballot, given the circumstances… so, we accommodated (issued a provisional ballot)… with the circumstances noted.  The other four ‘got it’, though they didn’t “like” the answer… so, Keith, dealt with 5 folk, all white, all citizens, who were “fraudulent persons” by your definition.

        All were white, all were citizens, all were idiots/lacking awareness…

        So, your point was?

        1. Keith O

          Howard, why are you making this about race?  Why are you pointing out the race of people you dealt with on election day?  Where did I once mention race in any of my comments on this thread?

          Yes, regardless of RACE, it sounds like some of those people you dealt with tried to vote FRAUDULENTLY.

          So your point was?????????????????????

  2. Jeff M

    This week’s midterms should send a strong message to the political establishment that when our civil rights and civil liberties are on the line, American voters will step in.

    Well that is one view… not at all the primary take-away, IMO.

    Democrats failed to do what almost all other first term midterm elections result in… a wave of the other party taking over the legislature.  Democrats lost the Senate bigly… and with Ginsburg in the hospital, I would be irrationally freaking out if I were a liberal.

    Frankly, the Democrat and leftist media memes of civil rights being on the line is a big fat fake news political propaganda campaign.  American civil rights have never been stronger and better… especially with the Trump economy providing much greater economic opportunity for everyone except the race baiters and charlatan Democrat and establishment politicians that loot for cash in their bank account.

    And progressive candidates lost in almost every House election.  What we see instead is the beginning of the split in the Democrat party where coastal and big city liberals are at odds with the American electorate and the only way Democrats can win is to minimize the progressive power base and maximize the traditional Democrat base.

    And the traditional Democrat base, as has been the case with all leading Democrat politicians on record, agrees that our immigration system is broken and that illegal immigrants need to be stopped from their continuing stealing of our national sovereignty.

      1. Jeff M

        Yes, and I think progressives are missing the message and setting the Dems up for 2020 failure if they don’t get it.   The claim of the national elections being a civil rights fight is intellectually dishonest and it is not resonating with the average voter.  The Dems did a good job shifting to health care toward the end of the election.  They are going to need to drop all the identity politics and fake civil rights crisis claims and adopt more real issues if they are going to be back in power.

    1. Tia Will

      “where coastal and big city liberals are at odds with the American electorate”

      Lending perspective to how you truly view those who do not agree with you. You simply do not see liberals as part of the “American electorate”. Not surprising. On Twitter, I have been called far worse than “at odds with the American electorate”. I must admit there was one post that was unsettling.  That one that said  I like all liberals, should be taken out and hung in public as the menace to the American public that we are. Hmmm….how many logical steps do you have to take to go from not a member of the American electorate to a menace to the American public?

        1. Tia Will


          What is your point? Of course it is wrong for Tucker Carlson’s family to be targeted and many liberals have spoken out about this on social media. It is wrong in exactly the same way it was wrong to target the family of Dr. Ford, exactly in the same way it was wrong for peaceful protestors to be beaten in Charlottesville. What good does it do to remain silent or to pretend it is justified when the people doing the terrorizing are on our own side?


      1. Jeff M

        That one that said  I like all liberals, should be taken out and hung in public as the menace to the American public that we are.

        That is disgusting, terrible, unacceptable language… similar to the standards that Antifa uses.  I think we all need to be clear in drawing the line between this type of thing and what is simply a disagreement in ideas identified.  One can say “liberals tend to believe this and that” and “conservatives tend to believe this and that” and should not then be claimed to be “attacking” individuals.

        Frankly I value liberal ideas as without them the conservatives would get lazy and degrade.  I think a healthy system is one that foments copious debate and competition of ideas.  However, it needs to be both respectful and open.   Those using truly hateful, threatening and disgusting speech should be called out for it.  And those that exaggerate, lie and hyperventilate over speech they claim is hateful, threatening and disgusting, but in reflection it is clear that the speech was only a difference of political opinion, well they should be called out too.

        And in the end we ALL need to agree that WORDS are NOT VIOLENCE.

        1. Ross Peabody

          I think you need to adjust your understanding of violence.  Words are, in fact, the most powerful indication and instigator of violence. So while anything that a person, especially one in power, can say won’t break your nose – eroding your spirit over time and/or encouraging someone or a “mob” of  somebodies to break your nose wouldn’t be hard.  That’s violence.
          Despite your admittedly skilled ability at using insincere circular narcissistic pseudo-civil claptrap, you’re one of the most talented people here at subverting real arguments by using overwrought memes to argue that the real arguments are overwrought memes.  I guess it’s a skill…(see your response to Tia’s comment above).
          To be real specific – your second paragraph is hilarious. Do you really think that your soapboxing is respectful and open?  If so, maybe pay attention to nearly everyone that tells you otherwise, and consider if they all are, in fact, wrong (I know you think they are because you thrive best as the underdog victim and voice of objectivist reason, but maybe try it as an exercise) or if maybe you’re the one not encouraging conversation in the way you think you are (or claim to want).

          If you’re so concerned about hateful speech, pay attention if someone is telling you that you’re employing it or supporting it. If you see an opinion that you disagree with and immediately hysterically categorize it as a tendency to “…exaggerate, lie and hyperventilate over speech they claim is hateful, threatening and disgusting, but in reflection it is clear that the speech was only a difference of political opinion…”, then maybe step back and think about it before you “call it out” in a knee jerk manner, especially when you exaggerate and hyperventilate more than most here.  Maybe ask questions (and not loaded ones) instead of bloviating – or better yet, engage – ask for the reasoning instead of “calling it out”.

          I guess I’m just saying that you should practice what you preach, man. I really want to like you.  In many of the local city issues threads,  I want to agree with you and then you pull out your TDS this and liberal that nonsense.

          If you just listen to what people are saying and respond to that instead of seeing it and then responding AT it, you might be seen as more of a member of the thriving community of ideas you claim to want to be a part of and less of a troll.

        2. Tia Will

          And in the end we ALL need to agree that WORDS are NOT VIOLENCE.”

          Words in isolation are certainly not violence. Words spoken by a charismatic figure of power can certainly provoke violence from that individual’s followers as history has shown us time and again. To pretend that the power of the Antifa group is anywhere near the power wielded by Trump is ludicrous.


        1. Ron

          Ross:  It is my admittedly subjective impression that the ACLU would probably not defend free speech for neo-Nazis (or similar groups), today.  (That impression is not just based upon this one article.)

          Unfortunately, there seems to be plenty of opportunities for the ACLU to make such a stand again, these days. And yet, they are apparently not doing so, to my knowledge.

        2. Ron

          Thanks, Ross.   Yes, it does.

          Perhaps I was making the mistake of confusing the condemnation of such views, vs. protecting the right to express them.

          Free speech is one of the most important and vulnerable rights we have. Definitely something I’m impressed with, regarding American law. I wonder how many countries around the world provide the same level of freedom and protection, regarding free speech.

          I’m less impressed with calling corporations “people”, though. 🙂

    1. Ron

      Thanks, Tia – I think it’s the same page.

      Seems like there’s a fine line between condemning speech, while still protecting it.  I’m guessing that I’m not the only one confused by the message, at times.  (Not just from the ACLU, but in general.)

      From the “left”, witness the folks who do try to shut down folks like Milo Y., on campuses.  (While the ACLU is simultaneously defending him in other ways, per the link you posted.)

      And then, there’s the actual violence that’s perpetrated against those with “really” unpopular views, like neo-Nazis. (Yeah, they perpetrate it, as well. Hard to tell who’s actually the primary perpetrators, in those cases.)

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