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Civil Rights


Elections and Access to Voting

The right of all Americans to fully participate in our democracy is being threatened today in ways we haven’t seen since the civil rights and post-Watergate eras.  In the 1960’s, passage of the Voting Rights Act gave all Americans equal access to our election process, regardless of race. In the 1970’s, The Federal Election Campaign Act brought a new era of transparency and accountability in campaign finance, and thirty years later Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act to rid the system of unchecked corporate soft-money.  Unfortunately the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision undermines that intent, and the result is in more instead of less money in politics. 
Across the country, several states are trying to turn the clock back on hard-earned advancements in voting rights.  Voter suppression efforts and identification laws often restrict voting access for minority, military, disabled, and low-income voters, as well as seniors and college students. 
The Supreme Court recently struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which for a half century has been essential to preventing states with a history of discrimination from disenfranchising minority voters. This ruling is very disappointing and wrongheaded. Almost immediately a number of these states moved to restrict voting rights for their citizens.  I pledge to work with my colleagues in Congress to protect the right to vote. Congress must move quickly to reenact a new Section 4 to meet the court’s newly announced standards.
Recently I joined many of my colleagues in sending a letter to 3200 college and university presidents encouraging them to provide voter registration opportunities to their students, and to educate their students about requirements for voting.  Greater voter turnout can only be achieved when our community institutions, in addition to government, are involved  in expanding access to voting.

Campaign Finance

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. FEC has greatly impacted the funding of campaigns. Gone is the transparency and accountability that kept shadowy organizations with hidden backers from influencing our elections. The result of Citizens United has been to allow anonymous donors to drown out the voice of everyday Americans. Citizens United is a constitutional decision that can’t be overruled by Congress without ratification of a constitutional amendment. In the meantime, Congress can require more disclosure.


All Americans deserve equal rights, including the right to marry, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Access to Justice  

Our democracy relies on an accessible and effective justice system to adjudicate rights and wrongs. When I was in law school, I helped low-income families access quality legal advice through Legal Aid. More than 60 million Americans qualify for legal assistance programs and these attorneys assist the most vulnerable in our society, including military veterans seeking disability benefits, women seeking protection from their abusers, and families facing unlawful evictions. I have fought hard for full funding for legal aid, and I oppose efforts to eliminate funding for these vital programs.


More on Civil Rights

May 21, 2019 Press Release
I rise today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the House passage of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote.
May 17, 2019 Press Release
I chair the Education Committee’s Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee, and in our hearing on this important bill we heard powerful testimony from Kimberly, the mother of Kai, an eight-year-old transgender girl.
May 1, 2019 In The News

ICE Agent Shoves Portland Lawyer: A federal immigration officer refused to show an arrest warrant and shoved a criminal defense lawyer as he tried to step on an elevator with his client on the fourth floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse on April 26. Courthouse arrests of immigrants have drawn intense criticism from civil rights advocates and court employees across the nation. Those tensions flared in Oregon when ICE agents clashed with Portland defense lawyer John Schlosser, who captured the confrontation on video. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici decried what she watched.

May 1, 2019 In The News

MEANWHILE ON THE HILL: The Learning Policy Institute is hosting a discussion on what the federal government should be doing to enforce student civil rights protections while supporting state and local efforts to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline policies.

April 28, 2019 In The News

An attorney’s video showed federal immigration officials as they arrested a man inside the Multnomah County Courthouse on Friday, drawing renewed attention to the longstanding but controversial practice of making arrests when people show up for unrelated court business.

Defense lawyer John Schlosser asked immigration agents to produce a warrant or other proof to show they were arresting the right man. Schlosser’s verbal exchange with authorities escalated when he attempted to board the same elevator they were using.

April 12, 2019 In The News

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she knew about the alarming levels of attempted suicide among transgender young people and the harmful effects of bullying and harassment in schools towards transgender students. That knowledge however didn’t stop her department from rolling back nationwide guidance meant to protect transgender students. Democrat Suzanne Bonamici quizzed DeVos about studies that showed lower attendance rates and high rates of depression due to bullying and harassment, as well as high rates of attempted suicide during House Committee hearing.

April 11, 2019 In The News

Education Secretary and woman-of-the-people Betsy Devos appeared before the House Education and Labor Committee this week to testify about her widely-criticized moves to reverse course on Obama-era affirmative action and trans-inclusive guidelines.

In an uncharacteristic moment of transparency, DeVos conceded to knowing the potential her policy-making — or un-making, as it were — could have in endangering the lives of transgender youth.

April 11, 2019 In The News

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that she was aware of research showing how harmful her anti-transgender guidance two years ago was.

DeVos appeared before the civil rights subcommittee of the House Education Committee.

April 11, 2019 In The News

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has admitted that she knew her departments actions against transgender students could directly impact their mental health and wellbeing.

Appearing before the House Education and Labor Committee, the usually evasive and opaque DeVos was pressed to directly answer a question from Civil Rights Subcommittee Chairwoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oreg.).

April 10, 2019 In The News

Education Secretary Betsy Devos told lawmakers that she knew the harms of rolling back the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students before she rescinded them.