Hillary Clinton on Civil Liberties

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ACLU Rating:

Hillary Clinton has a 75% lifetime rating from the ACLU and a 67% rating to date for the 2007-2008 legislative session.

Abortion and Reproductive Rights - Strongly Pro-Choice:

Hillary Clinton achieved a perfect 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. She has also received NOW-PAC's endorsement for the 2008 presidential race and expressed disagreement with the Supreme Court's ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), which upheld a federal ban on live intact D&X ("partial birth") abortions. On the other hand, she does support parental notification laws for minors seeking abortions.

Death Penalty - Strongly Retentionist:

As First Lady, Clinton supported Bill Clinton's reauthorization of the federal death penalty under Senator Biden's Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994--the first federal bill of the modern era to authorize capital punishment for a nonviolent offense (drug trafficking). She also supported legislation that substantially limited death penalty appeals. To her credit, she supports mandatory DNA testing for all federal death row inmates, but she has given no indication that she believes that large-scale reform of our capital punishment system is needed.

The First Amendment - Supports Campaign Finance Reform Legislation:

Like most other Democratic candidates, Clinton supports campaign finance reform legislation. A large part of the reason for her low 2006-2007 ACLU rating is her opposition to an amendment that would have exempted some grassroots activism from campaign finance reform legislation. As First Lady, she also supported some First Amendment abuses--most notably the Communications Decency Act and the 1996 welfare reform bill, which created the faith-based initiatives program.

Immigrants' Rights - Moderately Generous, Emphasizes Border Security:

Hillary Clinton supported the 2007 immigration reform compromise legislation, which would have granted a path to citizenship and established a new guest worker program. She has placed a stronger rhetorical emphasis on border security than other Democratic candidates, however, and as First Lady supported the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which expanded the use of deportation and limited conditions under which deportation could be appealed.

Lesbian and Gay Rights - Everything But Marriage:

Clinton supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), federal hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, civil unions, and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Like most Democratic candidates and several Republican candidates, she has taken a compromise position in which she opposes both same-sex marriage and the constitutional ban on same.

Race and Equal Opportunity - Undetermined:

Before entering politics, Clinton worked with the Children's Defense Fund under the leadership of civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, a protégé of Martin Luther King Jr. Her longstanding support for universal health care obviously helps low-income Americans impacted by racially-correlated socioeconomic disparities, but as First Lady, she also supported conservative affirmative action and welfare reform.

The Second Amendment - Supports Increased Gun Control:

Clinton has received an F rating from the NRA, and strongly supported Bill Clinton's gun control efforts while serving as First Lady.

War on Terror - Democratic Mainstream:

Hillary Clinton voted for the original USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, as well as the revised version in 2006. While she has criticized the Bush administration for violations of civil liberties, she has not stood out as a civil liberties candidate in this regard.

Tom's Take:

Clinton's record on some issues is much stronger than that of her husband, whose record remains her greatest liability from a civil liberties perspective. As a highly visible and politically active First Lady, she was a central part of the Clinton administration and needs to note her disagreements with its policies, where those disagreements exist. Nowhere is this more clearly established up than during the first debate, when she was asked if "don't ask, don't tell" was good policy.

What she said, in effect, was that it was a good policy when it was enacted in 1993 but should be regarded as an incremental step. That position makes little sense; if "don't ask, don't tell" is wrong now, then it was just as wrong in 1993. And it is that sort of accommodation to her husband's legacy--her unwillingness to distance herself from the civil liberties abuses of the Clinton administration--that makes her, an otherwise promising candidate, so difficult to assess.

This profile should not be regarded as a passing grade or a fail grade; it is an incomplete grade. Until we have a better understanding of what the substantive policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton are, her civil liberties platform will remain something of a mystery.