2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Section 1: Civil Rights


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The NAACP 2008 Presidential Candidate Civil Rights Questionnaire

If elected president, what specific actions will you take regarding equal opportunity programs?
Senator Clinton:

For millions of Americans, affirmative action knocked down the barriers of the past that prevented so many of us from attending college, working in our country's leading companies, or starting a small business.

I believe in affirmative action that opens the doors of opportunity, but not in quotas to guarantee results. I joined in the Michigan affirmative action cases, arguing that diversity in higher education is a vital national interest. The benefits of diversity for our country are real — not only for all students in higher education but also in our military and in our workplaces. As President, I will continue to make America live up to its ideals. I will support strong and sensible affirmative action. I will call upon corporate America to be as diverse as the customers it serves. I will reverse the staffing cuts to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and strengthen the employment section of the Civil Rights Division. And I will build an administration that not only looks like America, but truly reflects America's diverse backgrounds and values.

The Supreme Court's recent decision holding that our cities are not allowed to take voluntary reasonable steps to build diverse student bodies in public schools was a betrayal of the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education. I will direct my Justice Department to help local school districts pursue voluntary integration and racial equality in their schools.

Senator Obama:

I support affirmative action. When there is strong evidence of prolonged and systemic discrimination by organizations, affirmative action may be the only meaningful remedy available. Affirmative action programs, when properly structured, can open up opportunities otherwise closed to qualified minorities without having an adverse impact on the opportunities for whites. Given the dearth of black and Latino Ph.D. candidates in mathematics and the sciences, for example, a scholarship program for minorities interested in getting advanced degrees in these fields won't keep white students out of such programs, but can broaden the pool of talent that we need to prosper in the new economy. We shouldn't ignore that race continues to matter: To suggest that our racial attitudes play no part in the socio-economic disparities that we often observe turns a blind eye to both our history and our experience – and relieves us of the responsibility to make things right.

The Bush administration has made challenging affirmative action and scholarship programs one of the core missions of the Department of Justice. As president, I will rid the Department of ideologues and political cronies, and for the first time in eight years, the Civil Rights Division will actually be staffed with civil rights lawyers who prosecute civil rights violations, and employment discrimination, and hate crimes.

And while I support affirmative action for minorities, I also support efforts to increase opportunities for qualified students from low-income backgrounds to attend colleges and universities – regardless of their race.



If elected President, what, if anything, would you do to initiate discussions about race and America's past history of slavery among all Americans, not just people of African ancestry?
Senator Clinton:

Many Americans understand that before there can be redemption, there first must be repentance. We must acknowledge the evils of slavery. The amazing grace that we seek has helped to redeem America and to speed our nation's journey from its original sin to its founding ideals.

But, still, we need to complete our journey towards justice, and build an America where everyone who is willing to work can contribute to this country to the fullest of their God-given potential. We still need the capacity to look at injustice, to say, "This is wrong," and to assume our responsibility to put things right.
My husband knew that race would remain a central challenge of the 21
century when he convened his Initiative on Race, which included great Americans like John Hope Franklin. As President, I will start a new dialogue. And through policy, I will address the inequities and disparities that have been invisible to this President.

Senator Obama:

The legacy and stain of slavery are immeasurable; nothing, including reparations, can fully compensate. And though the country has made tremendous progress, we still have so much more to do.

I have a lot of respect for Congressman John Conyers and I'm glad the NAACP gave him its highest honor this year. While I know where his heart is at, I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say "we've paid our debt" and to avoid the much harder work of enforcing our anti-discrimination laws in employment and housing; the much harder work of making sure that our schools are not separate and unequal; the much harder work of providing job training programs and rehabilitating young men coming out of prison every year; and the much harder work of lifting 37 million Americans of all races out of poverty.
These challenges will not go away with reparations. So while I applaud and agree with the underlying sentiment of recognizing the continued legacy of slavery, I would prefer to focus on the issues that will directly address these problems – and building a consensus to do just that.


If elected President, would you pursue initiatives that allow federal dollars to be used to support programs in which individuals are discriminated against based on their religion?

Senator Clinton:

Freedom of conscience and religious tolerance are vital principles that lie at the heart of our democracy and our Constitution. If religious freedom is to thrive in the 21st century in our country and around the world, the United States must be a leader in that effort. Therefore, when I am President, federal dollars will not be used to discriminate against individuals on the basis their religious beliefs or refusal to participate in a religious practice. No one should be denied access to a federally funded program on the ground that they are religious, not religious, or practice a particular religion.

I support the funding of faith-based programs that promote the common good –feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, bringing hope to those who hurt – and are consistent with our principles. Our tax dollars come from a great and diverse nation and we have a sacred trust in how to morally use those funds. Faith-based programs are essential. However, we can not use tax dollars to promote one religion over another or discriminate in any way.

Senator Obama:

I support government efforts to partner with faith-based organizations. I have said repeatedly that these
organizations can be important partners in delivering social services, whether it's helping with prisoner re-entry programs or providing job training skills. However, my administration will not pursue initiatives that permit taxpayer dollars to be used to support programs that practice discrimination in hiring.


If elected President, which initiatives would you pursue to ensure that every eligible American is allowed to cast a free and unfettered vote, and to be assured that their vote was counted?

Senator Clinton:

Thousands of American heroes marched and died or were beaten and jailed while struggling to bring the right to vote to all Americans. Their struggle must be redeemed today.
I have proposed the Count Every Vote Act, and introduced it with my colleagues Senator Boxer and
Representatives Stephanie Tubbs Jones and John Lewis on the 42nd anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march from Selma, Alabama. This legislation redeems the voting rights of minority voters by calling for a voter-verified paper ballot; guaranteeing equal access to polling stations — and equal distribution of voting machines — for all Americans, and requiring states to work to reduce wait times for voters; creating a new federal crime for deceptive voter suppression tactics, such as sending flyers into minority neighborhoods telling voters the wrong voting date; mandating "no-excuse absentee balloting," as well as fair and uniform registration and identification rules, including same-day registration; authorizing ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society to vote in federal elections; creating and enforcing standards for purging voters to prevent voter disenfranchisement; and making Election Day a federal holiday so that voters do not have to take time off from work. This bill has been called the "gold standard" of federal election bills.

Senator Obama:
More than 40 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), there are still numerous obstacles to ensuring that every citizen can vote. As a community organizer, I successfully registered 150,000 new black voters. As a civil rights lawyer, I worked on voting rights cases. In the U.S. Senate, I helped lead the fight in the Senate to reauthorize the VRA and I led the opposition to photo identification requirements for voting. For me, protecting the right to vote has not just been a cause of this campaign; it has been a cause of my career.

As president, I will sign into law my Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, a bill that cracks down on insidious misinformation campaigns
designed to keep voters — usually racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled — from exercising their right to vote. We must also do everything we can to regain the trust and confidence in our electoral system that has been lost in recent years, and voter-verification should be a top priority in that effort. I think we should require the use of accessible paper trail systems at every polling place that uses electronic voting machines. I also believe that a paper trail requirement will be most effective if we combine it with a system of reasonable manual audits. I am cosponsor of legislation in the Senate that would implement these systems within the next few years.


If elected President what, if anything, would you do to help restore the voting rights of ex-felony offenders?

Senator Clinton:

I have written the Count Every Vote Act, which seeks to redeem a right that is fundamental to our democracy – the right to vote. And I'm proud that one of the many provisions of the Count Every Vote Act restores voting rights for ex-felons who have repaid their debt to society.

I will work hard to pass the Count Every Vote Act, and when it passes I will proudly sign it into law. But my work won't end there. I will aggressively enforce our voting laws. Under the Bush administration, not a single voting discrimination case was brought on behalf of an African-American voter between 2001 and 2006. That will change when I am President.

Senator Obama:

I support restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders. I am a cosponsor of the Count Every Vote Act, and would sign that legislation into law as president.



If elected President, what would you do to promote the rights of the citizens of the District of Columbia?

Senator Clinton:

Fair representation for the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia is long overdue. Our nation was born out of a struggle against taxation without representation, and yet —even as we endeavor to promote democracy around the world — we shamefully deny our own American citizens who live in the District the right to voting representation in Congress. This is an injustice that tarnishes our democracy. The right of citizens to be represented in Congress is fundamental to our core American values.

I opposed the decision of a Republican minority in the Senate to filibuster the DC Voting Rights Act earlier this year. As President, I will drive Congress to pass, and I intend to sign, a bill that recognizes the right of D.C. residents to have voting representation in Congress.
Senator Obama:

I am an original cosponsor of the Senate bill that will provide the District of Columbia with voting representation in the House of Representatives. I consider passage of this bill to be an important step toward justice. In our great democracy, it's a shame that residents of the District who pay taxes, fight in wars, and enjoy the same rights as every other American have no voting representation in our nation's capital. I will continue to champion this issue as president.



If elected President, what criteria would you use in determining who to nominate for positions in the federal judiciary?

Senator Clinton:

I strongly opposed the confirmations of Samuel Alito and John Roberts as Supreme Court Justices, and those of Charles Pickering, Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown, and Priscilla Owen as federal circuit court judges. I was not confident they would be committed to upholding the civil rights and liberties of all Americans.

I believe it is vital to the health and future of our democracy that our justice system responds to the diversity of our country, protecting and promoting the rights of all citizens equally. I would insist that nominees for positions to the federal judiciary share that belief.

Due to the power wielded by life-long federal judges, it is vital that these positions be filled by qualified persons who are committed to equality before the law and the upholding of civil rights and liberties. It is also important to appoint directors and staff in the Department of Justice who are committed to advancing civil rights and civil liberties in America, not handicapping them.
Senator Obama:

As a Senator, I have a track record of opposing nominees on the basis of their record on civil rights issues — a record born out of my own experiences as a civil rights lawyer and constitutional law professor. I opposed the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Arno to the Supreme Court in large part because of their records on civil rights and civil liberties. More recently, I led the opposition in the Senate to the nomination of Judge Leslie Southwick to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

As president, I will select federal judges who are highly-qualified and who have a clear record of public service. And I will select men and women who I think bring a certain emphathy to the task of judging — the ability to see themselves in other people's lives. This is not an insignificant consideration. When I opposed the Roberts and Alito nominations, I gave a speech on the Senate floor about those 5% of cases that often turn on what's in a judge's heart. Some may have scoffed at that. But when you have the Supreme Court of the United States doing what we saw last term —equating Jim Crow segregation of schools with efforts to voluntary diversify K- 12 education — it shows you why you should care about what's in a judge's heart. Because what's in their heart tells you a lot about their judgment.

Chief Justice Roberts likened being a judge to an umpire in his confirmation hearings. But law is not sport; and the art of judging is not the art of calling balls and strikes. I will appoint judges who understand that being a judge is also about empathy and sound judgment — that's why we call them judges. And that's what we need to do to make sure our judiciary protects and honors civil rights and civil liberties.



If elected President, what basic elements would you include in any proposal to reform our Nations immigration laws?

Senator Clinton:

As President, I will work to enact comprehensive immigration reform that respects the rule of law, our immigrant heritage, and our American values. I support reform that provides a path to earned legalization for people who learn English and pay fines. I will ensure that we protect the sanctity of families and repair the broken, unfair bureaucratic system that forces lawful immigrants to live apart from their families. I also believe we have to toughen security at our borders by placing more people and technology there. And I will ensure that my policy penalizes employers who hire  undocumented immigrants and applies strict penalties to employers who exploit these workers.

During this campaign, I have been proud to challenge the leading Republican candidates to stop treating immigrants as scapegoats. Passing comprehensive immigration reform that respects people's human rights and preserves our heritage as a nation of immigrants will be a high priority for me, if I am elected President. There is constantly mounting evidence that our system is broken, Recently, Citizenship and Immigration officials have reportedly said that it could take more than a year to process many recent naturalization applications. I think that is wrong, and as President, I will begin working to fix our system immediately.

Senator Obama:

I am committed to fighting for comprehensive immigration reform during my first term as president. As president, I will put comprehensive immigration reform back on the nation's agenda, and I will not rest until it is passed once and for all. We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We need comprehensive immigration reform that creates a system that is fair, consistent, compassionate, and emphasizes both maintaining the rule of law and the security of our borders while working to keep families together and putting the undocumented on an earned path to citizenship.

In the most recent immigration debate on the U.S. Senate floor, I fought to improve and pass amendments to put greater emphasis on keeping immigrant families together and to revisit a controversial new points system that never received a proper public hearing. On security, comprehensive reform has to mean gaining operational control of our borders by using better technology, improving

infrastructure, and making smart choices about where we deploy resources on the Southern and Northern borders. These actions can strengthen our security while discouraging people from taking the risk of crossing the border and a dangerous desert illegally. And at the workplace, we need a simple, but mandatory electronic system that enables employers to verify the legal status of the people they hire. We also need to bring the 12 million
undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. We need to be realistic about the fact that they are here, we can't deport them, and they have become an integral part of our society. We need to give this population a chance to pay a fine, to have provisional status in the country, and to get into the back of the line for citizenship.



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NAACP Presidential Candidate Civil Rights Questionnaire ] Black Democrats face tough choice in Tuesday's primary ] Blacks Key to Democratic Nominee ] The Black Community's "Change Killers" ] A Black Man as President? ] Is Obama on the Down low with the LGBTQ Community? ] Do We Really Want Another Black President ] Blacks Have Neutered Themselves ] Tracey Morgan: Bitch is the new black (video) ] Class Splits Among African Americans in 2008 Election ] The Coon Effect and Black Presidential Candidates ] What Black Women's Vote Mean for the Presidential Race ] Obama gives blacks hope that change is in the wind ] MAINSTREAM BLACK AMERICANS: Obama upends racial stereotypes ] Not 'other,' just black ]
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