January 08, 2017

Ahead of Attorney General Confirmation Hearing, Duckworth Highlights Importance of Disability Rights and All Civil Rights


WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) released a statement describing how her experience informs her views about disability rights and civil rights for all Americans. In particular, Senator Duckworth discussed Senator Jeff Sessions' troubling record on disability issues, which raises concerns about his nomination to be Attorney General of the United States.

"My life isn't like many of my colleagues in Congress,"said Senator Duckworth."Getting around can be difficult. I can't always get into restaurants or other public spaces. I have to spend a lot of time planning how to get from one place to another. I understand that not everyone thinks about these things, and I don't expect everyone to. But we have laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure millions of Americans with disabilities can get from place to place, access public spaces and simply live with dignity. It matters deeply to me who the Attorney General is, as they are the person who decides whetherto enforce or erode the protections countless Americans depend on."

The U.S. Department of Justice, which Senator Sessions would head if confirmed, plays a critical role in enforcinglaws that protect the rights of peoplesuch as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),which ensures public schools accommodate students with disabilities but that Sessions has called "the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today." More information on Sessions' record is below:

  • In the 1990s,Sessions led a legal battleas Alabama's Attorney General against requiring many of Alabama's poorest school districts be given the funds necessary to meet the needs of disabled students.
  • In 2000,Sessions accused IDEA of"hurting public education,"calling "special treatment for certain children ... a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America." Sessions has promoted educating students with disabilities separately instead.
  • In 2009, Sessions voted against expanding hate crime protections to people with disabilities. The hate crime against an 18-year-old man with disabilities recently in Chicago is a reminder that hate crime protections are needed as much as ever.
  • In 2012, Sessions also calledthe Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, "unnecessary" and "dangerous."

"I am concerned about confirming someone for this important role who has called protections for people with disabilities 'unnecessary' and even 'dangerous,'"continued Duckworth."I am concerned about the kind of enforcement our Department of Justice will pursue if its leader has consistently criticized policies that ensure schools reasonably accommodate and educate students with disabilities. I am concerned about what will happen to citizens with disabilities, citizens with different racial backgrounds, citizens with different sexual orientations and other marginalized Americans if their Attorney General has made a career opposing laws that protect them from discrimination and hate crimes."

Duckworth's concerns extend into Senator Sessions' record on civil rights issues throughout his public career, including his vote against theMatthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extended federal hate crime protections to people who were victimized because of their disability, gender, and sexual orientation. Senator Sessions twice voted against repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, against the DREAM Act in 2010 and has described the Voting Rights Act an "intrusive piece of legislation."

"The arrest of four assailants in Chicago last week should remind us that hate is not limited to any skin color, and that civil rights laws-from hate crimes to voting rights-protect us all. The next Attorney General must recognize that and work to protect and defend all Americans. For these reasons and others, I look forward to a full, thorough and fair confirmation hearing, and I hope Senator Sessions is able to alleviate my concerns."