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Civil Rights


Education and Labor

A quality public education is a powerful force for economic and social mobility. As Chair of the Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services, I am working to expand opportunities for people of all backgrounds. We must close the equity gap for students of color, who continue to face disparate outcomes in our public education system.


The Trump administration has been undermining, rather than protecting, the civil rights of students and workers. I take seriously the obligation of Congress to advance equity, hold institutions accountable, and provide meaningful oversight of the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and the Trump administration. I will fight for all students and workers so they can learn and work in safe, inclusive, and welcoming environments.

LGBTQ Equality

All Americans should be free from discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I have long advocated for LGBTQ rights. I’ve challenged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reinstate protections for transgender students, and I’m leading the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act, which would update the Older Americans Act to strengthen safeguards for LGBT elders.


I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Equality Act, H.R. 5, to amend our civil rights laws to clarify that prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex includes prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Elections and Access to Voting

The right to vote is the core of our democracy, and it is critical that all Americans who qualify to vote have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the polls. For too long our nation did not allow minorities to vote; even after that right was afforded to all Americans, many jurisdictions engaged in shameful practices that effectively made it impossible for many citizens to exercise their rights.


In the 1960’s, the Voting Rights Act gave all citizens 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. 


But the right of all citizens to fully participate in our democracy is under threat in ways we haven’t seen since the civil rights and post-Watergate eras. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision undermined that intent. There is no question that Citizens United has harmed our democracy, and it must be overturned. The Supreme Court further undermined voting rights by overturning key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, making it easier for states and localities to implement discriminatory practices that block access to the ballot box.


Voter suppression efforts and voter identification laws often restrict access for minority, military, disabled, and low-income voters, as well as seniors and college students. I am also deeply concerned about potential foreign interference in elections.


I am a strong supporter of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which addresses campaign finance reform, voting rights, election security, accountability for government officials, and more. It includes many of the voting provisions that Oregonians have already adopted and appreciate, helping states across the country follow Oregon’s lead by expanding automatic voter registration, online registration, having paper ballots, and vote-by-mail to make it easier for millions of people to exercise their right to vote.


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

June 4, 2019 Press Release
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the American Dream and Promise Act to stand with the thousands of Dreamers across the country and in Oregon.
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 In The News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats in the House approved sweeping anti-discrimination legislation Friday that would extend civil rights protections to LGBT people by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The protections would extend to employment, housing, loan applications, education, public accommodations and other areas.

Called the Equality Act, the bill is a top priority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said it will bring the nation "closer to equal liberty and justice for all."

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.