Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
America’s history is closely tied to the struggle for equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity for all. That is the common thread in the movements for civil rights, women’s rights, labor rights, LGBTQ+ rights, the rights of individuals with disabilities, and others. While these movements have yielded real progress, we still have a long way to go to build an ever-more perfect union. Senator Van Hollen’s leadership stems from a deeply-held commitment to advancing that mission.
Senator Van Hollen’s longstanding fight to protect civil rights dates back to his time in the Maryland General Assembly, where he fought successfully to pass legislation prohibiting racial profiling at traffic stops. Senator Van Hollen continues to advocate for an end to racial profiling and an end to the systemic discrimination within our institutions that has allowed these practices to continue. He believes strongly that we must stamp out racism in our institutions wherever it rears its ugly head and take necessary steps to repair past harm and build a more just future. Senator Van Hollen has partnered with colleagues across both houses of Congress and leaders across Maryland to promote necessary, common-sense changes in how we keep communities safe, protect civil liberties, and address the present scourge of mass incarceration. He has championed common-sense police reform – cosponsoring the Justice in Policing Act – and he is working with colleagues to update our criminal justice system so that addiction is no longer treated as a crime, but as a public health issue. In addition, he has led the charge to update how our communities respond to those emergency situations that do not require a use-of-force option and which would be best addressed by professionals trained in mental and behavioral health, crisis response, or mediation.
The injustices ingrained in our prison system must also be tackled head-on, and Senator Van Hollen is fighting to do just that. He opposes private prisons and is working with colleagues to end the federal government’s use of for-profit private prisons, nationwide. He is also partnering with lawmakers to pass a Constitutional amendment that would close a loophole protecting forced labor in our prison systems. He voted to pass the bipartisan First Step Act in the Senate, which became law in 2018, and he continues to support additional legislative efforts to ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals can fully contribute to our communities. That push includes a bill to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals, which complements Senator Van Hollen’s broader commitment to protecting and strengthening the right to vote.
Senator Van Hollen is equally dedicated to safeguarding women’s rights and promoting policies that advance gender equity. His efforts in this cause date back to his early days in public service when he ran on a pro-choice ticket during his very first election. He supports equal pay for equal work and has cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act to close the gender wage gap once and for all. He strongly supports passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which guarantees women equal rights under the Constitution. Senator Van Hollen has also been a champion for a woman’s right to choose. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to codify the protections enshrined in the precedent of the Roe v. Wade case. Now, it is time for the Senate to do its job and pass that legislation after the Supreme Court’s dangerous steps to take away a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, and Senator Van Hollen is one of the key lawmakers leading that charge.
The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees religious freedom without facing punishment by the government. The separation of church and state is central to the American project, and Senator Van Hollen is fighting for legislative solutions that will help us stay true to that founding promise. When Donald Trump issued an executive order blocking travel from majority Muslim countries, Senator Van Hollen joined forces with colleagues to stand up to that shameful act through legislation. President Biden’s decision to reverse this discriminatory ban on his first day helped restore religious liberty and our nation’s standing as an international beacon of hope. Senator Van Hollen will continue to push that effort forward.
The trajectory of civil rights is also closely bound to the trajectory of disability rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to protect people with disabilities against discrimination and ensure access to all parts of our society. But there is still more work to do to realize the full scope and spirit of those guarantees. That’s why Senator Van Hollen has continued to work closely with the disability community to promote civil rights and equal opportunity. He led the successful effort to pass the ABLE Act in order to help persons with disabilities and their families save for the future. Today, he is pushing for necessary enhancements to that legislation. Senator Van Hollen has also called for fair wages and integrated workplaces and fought for increased resources for education for students with disabilities year after year.
Senator Van Hollen strongly believes that no one should face discrimination because of who they love. He has been a leader for LGBTQ+ rights since his time in the Maryland General Assembly, when he fought to pass one of the nation’s earliest laws prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of sexuality. In the Senate, he has cosponsored the Equality Act which would eliminate the disparities in existing laws that permit such discrimination across the country and provide legal protections and stability to LGBTQ+ families.
Each of us has a role to play in bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Senator Van Hollen is partnering with colleagues and community leaders to bend that arc further and faster.