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Lawyers' Committee Weighs In On State of the Union Address

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 12, 2013

Bipartisan Presidential Voting Commission is Step in Right Direction,
However Comprehensive Plan is Critical in Reforming and Modernizing Voting

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 12, 2013 - Following President Obama's State of the Union Address, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine and Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House released the following statement:

"President Obama used his State of the Union Address today as an opportunity to tackle critical issues facing the nation, including those which greatly impact African Americans and other racial minorities.

As in his second inaugural speech, President Obama focused on the need for election reform and announced a bipartisan presidential commission to focus upon improving Election Day issues such as long lines.  As the President noted, no one should have to stand in egregiously long lines just to exercise their fundamental right as an American.  While this focus on election reform is applauded, comprehensive reform will be necessary to prevent deceptive practices, expand early voting, utilize technology to make voter registration automatic and portable and enhance poll working training."

During his address, President Obama highlighted a woman from North Miami, Desiline Victor, who when she arrived at her polling place, was told the wait to vote might be six hours. "And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say," President Obama stated. "Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old.  And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted'."

"In 2012, millions of American voters like Desiline endured incredibly long lines, poorly trained poll workers, confusing laws, and administrative hurdles, as well as deceptive voting practices meant to discourage or misinform, in order to exercise their fundamental right to cast their ballot.  Voter deception by those attempting to change the outcome of the elections is truly outrageous and must be criminalized. 

Americans should not have to face these numerous voting hurdles, especially when there are practical means readily available to correct the problems.  Furthermore, improving election administration and providing election-day registration are critical components of improving our electoral system. The fundamental right to vote should be an accessible and easy process for every American, regardless of party affiliation, and our antiquated voting system should be modernized to meet the demands of the 21st century.

In addition to voter reform and modernization, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee) will continue to work with the Administration to advance effective strategies and tactics toward achieving more racial equality and parity for people of color in employment, economic opportunity, housing, education, and on judicial benches across the country.  The unfortunate truth is that people of color still face limited opportunities for advancement and remain vulnerable to racial discrimination.

We applaud President Obama's focus on education in his address, including his proposal to work with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. We also encourage the Administration to focus on parent engagement in education and challenging discriminatory discipline and classroom assignment practices, as well as school finance inadequacy to ensure that no child starts the race of life already behind. 

The Lawyers' Committee was also pleased to hear the President once again urge Congress to move forward on creating economic opportunities for all Americans and agree that barriers exist for many workers.  Barriers such as the misuse of credit and criminal background checks particularly affect communities of color.  No matter how many jobs exist, many Americans cannot even apply because of these inappropriate checks. 

The Lawyers' Committee also agrees that passing comprehensive immigration reform and reducing gun violence in our schools and inner cities is similarly necessary.  We encourage the President and his Administration to employ comprehensive and bold strategies via the administrative and legislative process to combat underlying issues leading to racial disparities in these areas. 

Now, more than ever, special barriers confronting our citizens - in particular low-income persons and communities of color - must be vigorously addressed and systematically dismantled.  With vast disparities in unemployment, education, judicial appointments, and economic opportunity still disproportionately affecting African Americans/Blacks and Latinos/Hispanics, the ideals of fairness, equality and justice are long overdue.  Equality and justice should be afforded to every American and the Lawyers' Committee remains committed to working with the President, the Administration, Congress, and the American people to achieve these critical goals."

About the Lawyers' Committee
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2013 as we continue our quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment; voting; education and environmental justice.  For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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Note to Media:  To coordinate interview opportunities with the Lawyers' Committee, please contact Stacie Royster, 202-445-6101 or sroyster@lawyerscommittee.org.

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