Areas of Interest
While our country has made great strides in ensuring equal rights for all, we still have a long way to go to guarantee the civil rights of every American. From fighting to ensure that every eligible voter is able to exercise his or her right to cast a ballot to prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, you can be assured that I will continue to be an advocate for the equal rights of all Americans.
The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important laws Congress has ever passed. Since it was enacted in 1965, this landmark legislation has been renewed on four occasions, most recently in 2006 for another 25 years. I strongly supported renewal of the Voting Rights Act, which passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House of Representatives before being signed into law by President George W. Bush.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, effectively eliminating an essential enforcement mechanism for the law’s prohibition of racial and other forms of discrimination in voting. I believe the Supreme Court’s decision was a deeply disappointing example of extreme judicial activism. In my view, this case was wrongly decided and will unjustly threaten the right to vote for millions of Americans across this country. This decision poses a special threat to voter participation among African Americans and Hispanic Americans, who have historically and disproportionately experienced discrimination when voting.
We need look no further than the recent election to see the unfortunate reality that bigotry still exists in our country. In 2012, there were efforts in some states to suppress voter turnout in minority communities. This is unacceptable, and it is a reminder of the importance of the Voting Rights Act. We should be doing everything possible to encourage participation in the democratic process and ensure every eligible voter is able to exercise his or her right to cast a ballot.
Protecting the fundamental right to vote of every American is an issue where Democrats and Republicans should be able to find common ground. I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that Congress rights the wrong of this decision and that we do not turn back the clock on America’s democratic progress.
On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the section barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed under state law. The Supreme Court’s decision gives same-sex couples, including bi-national couples, and their families the equality they deserve, and guarantees their marriages will no longer be held to a lesser standard. With the decision, tens of thousands of gay and lesbian couples now have the certainty of knowing that the decision about whether to get married is solely between them and the person they love – and not the federal government.
I joined an amicus brief filed on behalf of 40 Democratic Senators urging the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have a negative impact on anyone else, or on our nation as a whole, has always struck me as absurd. I am glad that the Supreme Court recognized that the federal government has no business picking and choosing which American couples get the legal recognition and protections they deserve.
In the 113th Congress, I was proud to lead the Senate in passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I believe that employment decisions should be based on relevant matters such as performance, ability, and conduct in the workplace, and that race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity should not be factors in the hiring, promoting, or dismissal of any individual. I am proud that Nevada has enacted legislation to ensure that individuals cannot be fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I hope that the House of Representatives brings the Senate bill to a vote soon, to prohibit such job discrimination across the nation.
Women deserve equal pay for equal work. Unfortunately, the average woman is still paid only 77 to 81 cents for every dollar her male counterpart is paid. Even after accounting for differences in education and the amount of time in the work force, women’s pay still lags far behind men who are doing the same or similar work. That is why I am proud to have led the Senate in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law. This landmark legislation restores back pay and enforces civil rights protections for workers who faced discrimination based on gender, age, race, national origin, religion or disability. This legislation will help ensure that men and women are paid fairly and that they have a fair opportunity under the law to fight back when they are not.
Additionally, I was also an original cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would revise and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and further target gender pay discrepancies in the work place. I attempted to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act to a vote before the full Senate in 2012, but was disappointed when my colleagues on the other side of the aisle chose to filibuster the motion and block the Senate from considering this important legislation. Although a majority of Senators voted in favor of the motion, it failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster. Despite the setback, you can be assured that I will continue to stand firmly on the side of equality for every working woman. I will continue to stand with middle-class women working to keep their families afloat during difficult economic times, and with young women pursuing a college education, hoping to get a good-paying job when they graduate. No woman working to support herself or her family should be paid less than her male counterparts.
In the 110th Congress, I also proudly helped increase the federal minimum wage for the first time in 10 years, giving millions of women a pay raise in 2007. The legislation raised minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 an hour over two years, which directly or indirectly benefits 13 million hardworking Americans. As too many Nevadans know all too well, the cost of housing, food, gasoline, and other expenses has increased since the minimum wage was last adjusted. This issue is particularly significant for women, as they comprise nearly two-thirds of workers who make less than the current federal minimum wage. Many are often the sole support for their families.
I have been a strong and consistent supporter of hate crimes legislation. In 2009, I was proud to lead the Senate in passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act when it was offered as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization bill. I worked hard to ensure that it had the votes to overcome a filibuster by its opponents. I also worked closely with House leaders to make sure that the hate crimes legislation remained in the Defense Authorization bill as members of the Senate and the House worked out their differences in conference. This legislation expands the groups protected under hate crimes law (which already covered race, color, religion, and national origin) to include gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It also enables the Department of Justice to assist state and local jurisdictions in investigating and prosecuting violent hate crimes and their efforts to bring justice to those who commit violent crimes based on bigotry and prejudice. Finally, this bill expanded the law to allow for prosecution of a hate crime even if the crime did not take place when the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity.
In June 2013, I was proud to lead the Senate in passing commonsense reform legislation, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, by a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32. This bill will continue our work to secure the borders, improve our dysfunctional legal immigration system, and require the estimated 11 million people who are here without authorization to register with the government, pay fines and taxes, learn English, and get in the back of the line to obtain legal status. This legislation also improves the U.S. asylum system by ending the one-year deadline to file for asylum, which currently hurts many asylum seekers who fear persecution on the basis of race, national origin, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. This bill also includes stronger protections for refugee families, and important fixes to the asylum and refugee adjudication process. This commonsense legislation honors the contributions of generations of immigrants – immigrants who founded this country and built it into the superpower it is today. It also recognizes that today’s immigrants came for the same reasons as generations before them – to build a better life for themselves and their children and to achieve the American dream. This bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act respects and fulfills that hope.