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Republicans scratched “civil rights and human rights” from a Senate subcommittee name

  1. Under new Republican leadership, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, has been renamed: it's now called the Senate Subcommitee on the Constitution.
  2. The change wasn't formally announced, but when Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) listed the members of the subcommittee this week, the "civil rights" and "human rights" were missing, the Huffington Post reported Friday.
  3. A spokesman for John Cornyn (R-Texas),the chairman of the renamed subcommittee, confirmed the change and explained, "We changed the name because the Constitution covers our most basic rights, including civil and human rights," and, "We will focus on these rights, along with other issues that fall under the broader umbrella of the Constitution."

A change that reflects priorities?

The switch, combined with Cornyn's legislative track record (he has, for example, opposed a bipartisan plan designed to revive the Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court decision stripped its key provisions), is causing concern among those who take it as confirmation that the subcommittee won't prioritize civil rights or human rights issues.

In a statement release Friday, Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the change "discouraging." She said, "Names matter. This, after all, is a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the implementation and enforcement of many of our most important civil rights laws."

A spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who's the subcommittee's previous chairman and now, ranking member, told the Huffington Post that the committee's name change "speaks to its priorities," but that Durbin would fight to make sure civil rights and human rights weren't ignored under its new, more conservative leadership.

The subcommittee's jurisdiction, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee's website (which has not yet been updated to reflect the new name or membership) is over the following areas:

  1. Constitutional amendments
  2. Enforcement and protection of  constitutional rights
  3. Statutory guarantees of civil rights and civil liberties
  4. Separation of powers
  5. Federal-State relations
  6. Interstate compacts
  7. Human rights laws and practices
  8. Enforcement and implementation of human rights laws

In a similar Republican-initiated name change that could be interpreted to reflect partisan values, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) eliminated "refugees and border security" from the name of the Senate subcommittee on immigration policy, replacing that phrase with "the national interest."

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