Issue Positions: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Senator Merkley is committed to protecting the rights and liberties of all Americans. Since its creation, our nation has come a long way in the march toward equality and fairness, but there is still much work to be done. All Americans deserve the opportunity to live, work, and succeed without facing discrimination.
Additionally, a major part of his role in serving the people of Oregon is protecting the privacy of Americans while keeping our country safe.
Ending Workplace Discrimination
Right now, Americans are protected against discrimination in the workplace based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and national origin. However, there is currently no federal law that consistently protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination. In fact, it remains legal in 29 states to fire someone based on sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on gender identity or expression.
Senator Merkley believes that all Americans deserve the right to earn a living. That's why he is the lead Senate sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation to provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA would protect qualified, hardworking Americans from being fired, denied job opportunities, or otherwise discriminated against just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Turning "Equal Opportunity" into Real Opportunity
The United States has come a long way in the march towards equality thanks to contributions from leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Dorothy Height, and many others. But, unfortunately, many of our minority communities continue to experience racial disparities in education, employment, and home ownership. For example, just 37 percent of black households in Oregon are homeowners, compared with 68 percent of white households. When it comes to higher education, only 26 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds and only 32 percent of black 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college in 2008, compared to 41 percent of white 18- to 24-year-olds.
The term "equal opportunity" means nothing unless it translates into real success for Oregon families. To help all of our families thrive, Senator Merkley is committed to increasing minority access to higher education, family-wage jobs, and home ownership.
Senator Merkley is a co-sponsor of the Small Business Programs Parity Act, which allows economically disadvantaged small businesses such as those qualified as HUBZone, minority, service-disabled veteran, women-owned, or 8(a) -- to compete equally when competing for government contracts.
Senator Merkley strongly believes that all workers deserve equal pay for equal work. At a time when women who work full time, year-round, still make only 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes, our laws must be strong enough to address clear cases of discrimination.
In one of his first acts as a U.S. Senator, Merkley cosponsored two bills to provide workers with increased protection from discriminatory pay practices. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama, restores fairness to the workplace by allowing victims of discrimination the ability to seek compensation even if they only discover the discrimination later. Senator Merkley is working with his Senate colleagues to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close the loopholes that allow employment discrimination to go unchecked while improving the remedies available and prohibiting retaliatory action by employers.
Senator Merkley co-sponsored the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law in October 2009. The bill, another step forward for equality under the law, enables the Treasury and the Justice Department to assist state and local authorities in the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill increases the federal government's ability to monitor these hate crimes by expanding the hate crimes statistics currently collected by the FBI and authorizing grants to help prevent and deter hate crimes committed by juveniles.
Protecting Privacy and Civil Liberties
America was founded upon principles of individual liberty and independence. To that end, the United States government has a responsibility to protect the privacy of its citizens while meeting its obligation to public safety.
In 2009, Senator Merkley co-sponsored the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act to eliminate part of the FISA Amendments Act that shielded telecommunications companies from being held accountable if they violated the law.
Merkley also co-sponsored the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act, which would reform the USA Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and other surveillance authorities to help restore judicial oversight. The legislation would protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens while making sure intelligence and law enforcement agencies still have the tools they need to fight terrorism.