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Civil Rights in the Age of Obama

Recorded on May 13, 2009

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium

Some of President Obama's admirers and detractors have suggested that his election as President and the Democratic majorities in Congress may usher in a new civil rights era. Whether that is so, what policies this new era might usher in, and whether those policies are wise are all subject to a healthy and exciting debate. Congress has already passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and is considering several more significant bills that concern race and gender - the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. More will likely be proposed this session. The Administration's enforcement staff is still being assembled, but Attorney General Eric Holder has already opined that he believes America "is a nation of cowards" when it comes to discussions of race, thus suggesting that his enforcement policies may be anything but timid. What effect should policymakers give to the President's campaign promise to move "beyond race?" Does the election of Barack Obama and the strong showing of Hillary Clinton help show that race- and gender-conscious measures to ensure equality are not necessary or justified? Do the new majorities in Congress suggest that the American people want such measures to be extended and expanded to new classes of people? Will this be the result, regardless of what the American people want? What will the Supreme Court have to say about all of this? Several potentially landmark cases are awaiting decision by the Supreme Court. The holdings of these cases, and how the political branches respond to them, are yet another hot topic for debate.