Michigan Democrat Leads Effort to Strengthen Landmark Civil Rights Laws

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) led the Thursday news conference on Capitol Hill. (Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib via Facebook)

By Michigan Advance

March 10, 2023

BY KEN COLEMAN, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

WASHINGTON—A group of Democratic US House members on Thursday called for the GOP-led chamber to pass the Justice For All Act, which they say will protect Americans from racial discrimination. 

US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) was joined by fellow Democrats Cori Bush of Missouri, Steven Horsford of Nevada and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas for the news conference held on Capitol Hill.

The measure, Tlaib said, “pushes back against decades of conservative court rulings” and strengthens landmark civil rights laws by prohibiting discrimination regardless of intent. Specifically, the legislation “restores and expands protections” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title IX of the Education Act of 1972.

Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, introduced similar legislation in the previous House session. The Congressional Progressive Caucus and the National Lawyers Guild have backed the measure. 

“Too many of our residents are suffering and being left out as they seek justice and accountability,” Tlaib said. “Decades of conservative court rulings continue to chip away at our most critical civil rights laws, and we are witnessing a judicial branch led by a Supreme Court with an increasingly radical right-wing agenda.

“Justice For All provides access to our judicial system that is necessary to protect people from discrimination and their rights being violated,” Tlaib continued. “It is crucial that we restore the original intent of our civil rights laws to fight injustice by empowering people to take on the bias they face every day—like rejected mortgage applications, unfair car insurance rates, workplace discrimination, and racial profiling by the police.”

In addition to strengthening the aforementioned laws, legislators said the act would expand and strengthen civil rights protections by:

  • Protecting people from discrimination in housing, schooling, public accommodations, employment, government facilities, privatized government functions, federally funded programs, and any commercial establishment—online or physical.
  • Prohibiting the use of compelled arbitration clauses, which critics say are frequently used to weaken consumer and employee rights.
  • Eliminating qualified immunity for government employees, which civil rights groups have long said allows government workers to escape responsibility for their actions, and establishing that units of government are liable for the acts of their officials—including police officers who violate people’s civil rights. The bill also prohibits racial and gender profiling in police investigations and activity.
  • Holding employers accountable for the actions of all employees and eliminating court-created defenses that allow employers to escape liability for creating hostile work environments.
  • Giving victims of disparate impact, essentially unintended discrimination, the support they need to allow civil rights lawyers to take up their cases.
  • Clarifying the definition of “sex” for purposes of civil rights to include sexual orientation, pregnancy, gender identity, or any sex-related traits.

Calls to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) regarding the legislation were not returned. 

Legal experts have called for federal lawmakers to address the fallout from the Supreme Court undermining landmark civil rights laws.

“Congress should act to undo this imbalance to help remediate past discrimination and prevent present discrimination,” a 2009 New York Law School Review analysis called “Rebalancing the Scales: Restoring the Availability of Disparate Impact Causes of Action in Title VI Cases” read. 

Horsford, Congressional Black Caucus chair, said that federal courts have “eroded some landmark laws that were designed to make this country for the people.”  

Bush, who is African American, agreed.  

“By expanding landmark civil rights protections, we can empower individuals to defend our civil rights, protect our communities from discrimination, and hold our courts accountable,” said Bush. 

Lee, a veteran member of the House Judiciary Committee and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Board chair, said the legislation is “long overdue.” 

“Justice for All restores the strength of the provisions to ensure that disparate discriminatory impact allows you to have a private right of action,” said Lee. 

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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