CBC opposes nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court and the Senate should too

Cong. Cedric Richmond.jpg

By U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) (Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus)

On January 31, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Gorsuch’s lifelong appointment to the court would have serious consequences for all Americans, but especially African Americans and vulnerable communities. Judge Gorsuch has displayed hostility to the rights of minorities, women, people with disabilities, and workers, which is why the Congressional Black Caucus submitted testimony recently opposing his nomination. His judicial record on race and related matters and constitutional and equal rights litigation does not merit our support or the support of the Senate.
All interpreters of the law should be committed to fairness and justice, not a specific legal philosophy of judicial interpretation. Judge Gorsuch’s commitment to “originalism,” or, interpreting the Constitution in a way that’s consistent with the intent of those who wrote it, often results in him ruling in favor of the big guy instead of the little guy, the strong instead of the weak, and the majority instead of minorities. From 2007 to 2016, Judge Gorsuch issued 14 published judgments related to employee discrimination cases. Nine of those decisions were in favor of the employer. We need a Supreme Court justice who will judge cases on the merits, not based on his or her personal philosophies.
For example, Judge Gorsuch believes that police officers should be granted qualified immunity, which prevents law enforcement and other government officials from being held accountable for the excessive use of force. In the case of Wilson v. City of Lafayette, Gorsuch decided that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity from an excessive force claim arising from the use of a stun gun that ultimately killed a young man. In three other cases involving police accountability, Gorsuch ruled in favor of police searches of vehicles without a warrant, minimizing the Fourth Amendment protections against unauthorized search and seizure.

Judge Gorsuch’s ruling in police accountability cases are particularly troubling given the increasing number of shooting deaths of so many unarmed African Americans by the police, and recent Department of Justice investigations that have found that police departments across the country have had a “pattern and practice” of racial discrimination.
In addition to his poor judicial record on police accountability, Judge Gorsuch has a poor judicial record on workers’ rights. His record is one of supporting employers over employees, even in the case of employees with disabilities. In Hwang v. Kansas State University, Judge Gorsuch ruled that “showing up” for work is an essential job function and that the Rehabilitation Act should not be used as a safety net for employees who cannot work. This case focused on a professor employed by Kansas State University who was diagnosed with cancer, and, after treatments that weakened her immune system, requested an extension due to a flu outbreak on the campus. Judge Gorsuch denied her request and sided with the university, compromising her health and recovery. He has a similar record when it comes to reproductive rights. In two cases, he sided with companies that wanted to deny women reproductive healthcare.

The judicial branch has the power to interpret the laws of the land, and thus, impacts every American’s way of life. This is especially true for the highest court in the land. Because of the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, African-Americans have been granted the opportunity to attend the school of their choice, women have been granted reproductive health rights, and workers have been granted safety and security from exploitative labor practices. Judge Gorsuch’s record in each of these areas raises concerns. His commitment to “originalism” also raises concerns. The Constitution is a living and breathing document that is meant to evolve with our society and it should be interpreted as such.
As the Senate evaluates Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record, it is imperative that Senators focus on consistency. Judge Gorsuch has consistently used the bench to protect corporations, and limit the rights of minorities, women, and workers. Consequently, the Congressional Black Caucus opposes his nomination and urges the Senate to do the same.
Congressman Richmond is the 25th Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and represents the 2nd District of Louisiana. On Twitter, follow the caucus at @OfficialCBC and follow Congressman Richmond at @RepRichmond.

President Trump and the Black Congressional Caucus plan to meet for the first time

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

 CBC members taken during a press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. in September 2016. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)
Following a bizarre exchange with American Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent April Ryan, the Congressional Black Caucus is in talks with President Donald Trump to set up a meeting.
Trump asked, Ryan, a veteran Black journalist, if she could set up a meeting with him and the CBC, as if Ryan was an employee of the White House or a special assistant to the CBC. Ryan responded by saying, “I’m a journalist.”
The confusing exchange was one of several moments at an unscheduled press conference Trump held at the White House on February 16.
“Since the White House has reached out in an appropriate manner to request a meeting with the caucus, I am now in discussions with them about setting one up,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said in a statement after the press conference concluded.
During an interview on MSNBC on February 17, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said that, “Steve Bannon cannot be in the room,” when the CBC meets with President Trump. “He’s a stone cold racist.” Bannon is currently the president’s chief strategist and served as a high-ranking executive at Breitbart News, an online publication known for trafficking in right-wing, alternative news that Bannon himself defined as “the platform for the alt-right.” The term “alt-right” is increasingly used to describe a new and emerging movement of racists and White supremacists.

Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), said the following in response to President Trump’s comments regarding a meeting with the Black Caucus: “President Trump has been in office for almost a month and the Congressional Black Caucus — which at a historic 49 members is almost a fourth of the House Democratic Caucus and represents millions of African Americans — did not hear from the White House until we introduced ourselves on Twitter after the White House press conference today.”
The statement continued: “For whatever reason, the letter the Congressional Black Caucus sent to then President-elect Trump and incoming White House officials on January 19 was not enough to get their attention. As the letter explained, President Trump’s ‘New Deal for Black America’ is ill-informed and insufficient and he would be wise to tap into the decades of expertise held by the Congressional Black Caucus when it comes to addressing issues that affect African Americans.”
The CBC, which is now at its largest membership in history, traditionally requests a meeting with the new president after the inauguration. Ironically, some of the meetings the CBC had with President Obama, specifically on the topics of jobs and the challenges of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have had tense moments. President Obama did not meet with the Congressional Black Caucus during his first year in office. Meetings between Obama and the CBC were scarce even though most of the members and the President were members of the same party.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

New study by Cornell Belcher shows: African-Americans feel ignored by the Democratic Party


By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

cornellbelcher_fallen_web120Cornell Belcher


Cornell Belcher, the CEO of Brilliant Corners Research, said that it’s no surprise that Black voters have presented a very clear mandate to the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose the Trump Administration, because 92 percent of African Americans voted against President Trump.

“However, to maintain this broad level of support among African American voters, Democrats more broadly will have to reevaluate the way they are engaging this critical section of [their] base,” Belcher said in a statement on February 9.

Belcher made a presentation and presented his new study to members of the Congressional Black Caucus at their retreat on February 7. House Democrats then departed to Baltimore for their annual three-day retreat the next day.

Belcher’s phone survey questioned 601 African Americans, at least 18 years-old, and registered to vote; the survey was conducted from January 4-8.

The results of the Belcher survey showed that African American voters were dissatisfied with President Trump and the direction of the country, and want more drastic tactics used to fight programs and policies that negatively impact their communities. The results also showed that protecting social security, reforming the criminal justice system, keeping the country safe from terrorists and other issues are priorities for African Americans.

“African Americans are the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters and they should be treated as such,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the chairman of the CBC, regarding the new study. “The results of this survey are clear marching orders for the Congressional Black Caucus — African Americans want Democrats to stop using the same old playbook and to make substantive progress on the issues that affect their communities.”

Here are some of the findings from Belcher’s study:

— A large majority of African American voters (63 percent) feel taken for granted by the Democratic Party. This startling majority represents a growing problem among one of the most critical components of Democrats winning coalition. The outcome of the 2016 election was widely the result of this coalition splintering away from the top of the ticket along the margins with younger and browner voters.

— The majority of African American voters (53 percent) want the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose President Trump. While 53 percent is not an overwhelming majority, it does represent an unusual decision for voters that normally prefer cooperation rather than obstruction from elected officials in Washington.

— African-American voters broadly support more drastic tactics to obstruct the Trump administration, including not confirming President Trump’s appointees (53 percent), sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience.

— African-American voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied (69 percent) with the direction of the country now, a drastic departure from the satisfaction they experienced during the Obama administration. Only 22 percent of African Americans are satisfied with direction of the country now, while 69 percent are dissatisfied.

— The list of important priorities for African American voters includes:
Protecting Social Security (88 percent, very important), keeping us safe from terrorists (78 percent), criminal justice reform (74 percent), reforming the election process so the candidate with the majority wins (72 percent), investigating Russian interference with the 2016 election (72 percent), protecting Obama’s legacy (71 percent), banning assault weapons (61 percent), and blocking Sessions (60 percent) are the top legislative priorities for African Americans nationally.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

The CBC places Blacks in power on Capitol Hill

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

hillstaffers_7892_fallen_web120More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. This photo was taken during a recent CBC press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)


In early December, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies led by Spencer Overton, released a devastating report on staff diversity in the United States Senate.“African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers,” the report found.

The Joint Center was careful to focus on senior staff positions in their Senate staff study. On January 5, the National Urban League will host a forum on Senate staff diversity on Capitol Hill. The only good news regarding the numbers on Black staff in the halls of power in Capitol Hill is on the House side.

More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. Currently, 32 members of the CBC have a Black Chief of Staff. Additionally, the Senate’s only Black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), currently employs the Senate’s only Black Chief of Staff.

In July, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan posted a photo on Instagram of over 70 Capitol Hill interns and not one was African American. Internships and fellowships on Capitol Hill are a key pipeline to building leadership experience in the halls of power.

Speaker Ryan’s Instagram image was a jarring visual of what many have known on Capitol Hill for years: That the staffs and the pipelines to get to power and be positioned for decision-making roles remains overwhelmingly White. Ironically, Ryan will have a Black Chief of Staff, Jon Burks, starting this month.

But when it comes to the number of senior staffers in Congress overall, particularly Chiefs of Staff, members of the CBC easily employ the majority. Though Black Chiefs of Staff are all but non-existent (1 percent) in the U.S. Senate, on the House side it’s a different story. Black Chiefs include Duron Marshall who is Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s (D-Mich.) Chief of Staff; Yelberton Watkins, who is Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) longtime Chief of Staff; Michael Cooper who is Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) Chief of Staff and Veleter Mazyck, who is Rep. Marcia Fudge’s (D-Ohio) Chief of Staff.

It matters who serves in the very top jobs: Those in senior staff positions have a major say in policy decisions and advise lawmakers directly. Chiefs of Staff and other senior staff members often move on to powerful well paying jobs in the private sector.

On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., just as in most places where there are budgets allocations to be decided on and jobs to fill, the person who makes the decision on those matters is the person with the most power and that often is not only the elected official, but also their Chief of Staff.             The Chief is also the gatekeeper for resumes and hiring staff. A typical Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill earns between $120,000 and $168,000.The conversation on hiring has been going on for years, but it was crystalized by the detailed report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

For many White Democrats in the Senate the numbers are particularly embarrassing. Several Senators, who have millions of African American constituents, have no Black senior staff members. The state with the most African Americans in the U.S. is Georgia with 3.1 African Americans according to the 2010 Census. Georgia is followed by New York (3 million), Florida (2.9 million), Texas (2.9 million), California (2.9 million), North Carolina (2 million), Illinois (1.8 million), Maryland (1.7 million), Virginia (1.5 million) and Louisiana (1.5 million).

But not one Black senior staffer from any of those states now serves on the staffs of the U.S. Senators from the above states with the largest African American populations. None of them have a Black Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, Communications Director or State Director.

On December 12, outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield released a statement on staff diversity. “The near complete absence of African American senior staff in personal and committee offices in the Senate is not reflective of the inclusiveness ideals of our government, and of our country. The CBC has long championed African American inclusion in all industries, and launched CBC TECH 2020 last year to promote diversity in the technology industry,” said Butterfield. “But the fact that the United States Congress, an institution that was created to represent all people, still has not taken meaningful steps to increase diversity is disappointing and requires an immediate remedy.”

Butterfield continued: “There are plenty of offices hiring, on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers, where Senators and Representatives can hire talented African American candidates. Yet, from our records, with the start of the next Congress, the Senate is poised to have one African American Senate Chief of Staff and no African American staff directors, if immediate action is not taken.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.


With Flint victory, African American lawmakers increase their clout in Congress


By Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis , Washington Post

black-congressional-caucusMembers of the Black Congressional Caucus speak out on issues, from left are: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As the country’s first Black president prepares to leave the White House, African-American members of Congress are exerting increasing influence on Capitol Hill.

The Congressional Black Caucus has emerged as the driving force behind several dramatic standoffs in Washington this year – most recently spurring successful efforts to secure funding for the water crisis in Flint, Mich. as part of a budget deal that sent lawmakers home for the elections.

“Our minority caucuses do not want to vote for a bill that does not have Flint in it,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters, just hours before striking the deal to secure at least $170 million in Flint funding. “I don’t think our black caucus will vote for it…without Flint.”

The CBC has always been an influential faction of House Democrats, but its power is rising as Congress struggles to respond to a series of racially charged police shootings of African-Americans around the country.  The 43-member caucus — which includes only one Republican, Utah Rep. Mia Love — now intends to capitalize on that influence to force action on issues of importance to black Americans.

In addition to pushing the budget to the brink over Flint funding, CBC leaders like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) helped organize a nationally televised sit-in in June demanding votes on gun control legislation.

            “The extent to which you get agreement on Flint essentially means that we are educating our caucus” of House Democrats, said Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the House’s No. 3 Democrat. “I will use that success, to show we have not just zeroed in on this, in the next Congress.”

Clyburn said that despite the incidents playing out across the country, and the racially-charged language that has taken over the debate surrounding it, the country is better off than it was when Obama took office.

“President Obama took the baton from us, and now he’s about to give it back,” Clyburn said. “He’s handing the baton to us with the country in a much better place than it was when we handed it to him.”

Black lawmakers trace the current upswing in influence to a bitter debate over allowing Confederate flags on federal grounds forced Republicans to yank a spending bill off the House floor.

New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries called that episode, and the 25-hour sit-in over gun control, “probably the two most dramatic moments that we’ve had in the House since the government shutdown” in 2013.

            Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former CBC chair, said that the House leadership is taking notice of the group’s increased clout.

“The leadership is far more sensitive on the issue of inclusion and making sure that everybody’s voice counts than in previous times here in Congress,” Cleaver said. “So it’s not like ‘Oh, here they come again.’ It was like: ‘We know you guys are interested and we want you to come up and talk.’”

Black lawmakers are also responding to a political atmosphere in which GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump charged that Black Lives Matter protests are driving the killings by police and said that black communities are “in the worst shape they’ve ever been.”

And they’ve spoken out, loudly, when some of their colleagues — most recently North Carolina Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger — have made racially inept remarks. In televised comments to the BBC, Pittenger said that black protesters “hate white people” — comments that CBC members called “ignorant” and “beyond the pale.”

CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said last week that Pittenger had personally and sincerely “apologized multiple times” for what he said, and that the CBC is “ready to move on.”

            But the episode, as well as the legislative muscle the CBC has been flexing, illustrate a key element of the group’s strategy.

“When we are united we are a force to be reckoned with,” said Butterfield said.

Members say being in the House minority has made it easier for Democrats to band together. “We don’t control either body here, and we’ve been forced to work better together,” Clyburn said. “As a result, I think you’ve seen some better results.”

Black lawmakers said they now intend to focus on economic solutions in other majority-black cities. They said their next fights will be for resources to expand access to housing, education, and the sort of community revitalization programs that attract business, tax dollars, and better water, sewage, roads and bridges as a result.

Clyburn expressed optimism that such changes were within reach, pointing to recent bipartisan support for a CBC-championed anti-poverty plan, which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have both endorsed.

But in order to expand their influence, Clyburn and other CBC members are acutely aware that their challenge is to convince their colleagues that the issues that matter to African-Americans should matter to all Americans.

Poverty, they believe, is an area where that should be an easy sell. “We have had the kind of experiences like the people in Flint, so we can personalize this stuff in a way that a lot of other members can’t,” Clyburn said. “But it’s time for us to get beyond this color business…this is not about black communities, this is about needy communities.”

White communities in places like Kentucky and West Virginia are just as economically bad if not worse off than many poor black communities, Clyburn pointed out. Two-thirds of poor counties in America are represented by Republicans, he added, expressing frustration that “the moment you start talking about poverty, the face of poverty’s always black.”