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Barack Obama on Civil Liberties

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Barack Obama

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the most well-funded candidate of the 2008 presidential race.

Photo: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images.

ACLU Rating:

Barack Obama has a 79% lifetime rating from the ACLU, and a 50% rating to date for the 2006-2007 legislative session.

Abortion and Reproductive Rights - Strongly Pro-Choice:

Obama achieved an 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in both 2005 and 2006. He has expressed firm disagreement with the Supreme Court's Gonzales v. Carhart ruling of 2007, which upheld a federal ban on live intact D&X ("partial birth") abortions. While serving as a member of the Illinois State Senate in 2001, he abstained from voting on two parental notification bills.

Death Penalty - Retentionist, But Supports Reform:

Although Obama supports the death penalty in extreme cases, he was personally involved in a legislative effort in Illinois to reform the state's capital punishment system. Among other things, he co-wrote legislation requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases. He frequently criticizes application of the death penalty in the United States, citing instances where death row inmates have been exonerated, as well as the well-documented racial disparities in capital sentencing.

The First Amendment - Supports Campaign Finance Reform Legislation:

One of the primary reasons Obama's current ACLU rating stands at a mere 50% for 2006-2007 is his vote against a legislative amendment that would have exempted grassroots lobbying efforts from campaign finance reform regulations. The amendment passed the Senate without Obama's support.

Immigrants' Rights - Moderately Generous:

Obama supports the continued use of government services by undocumented immigrants, as well as the guest worker program and citizenship path proposal that would have been implemented by the Senate's 2007 immigration reform bill. On the other hand, he strongly supports increased funding for border security and has expressed firm opposition to amnesty proposals.

Lesbian and Gay Rights - Everything But Marriage:

Obama 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." He opposes both the Federal Marriage Amendment and same-sex marriage, a compromise position held by the majority of 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, as well as several of the Republican candidates. Read more...

Race and Equal Opportunity - Leading Candidate:

Obama, who spent 11 years working as a civil rights attorney, was the first and is quite often the only candidate of either party to speak of institutional racism, racial socioeconomic disparities, and racial segregation. He strongly supports affirmative action programs.

The Second Amendment - Supports Increased Gun Control:

Obama holds an F rating from the NRA, and he tends to support any gun control legislation that comes his way.

War on Terror - Democratic Mainstream:

Obama's position on Bush's post-9/11 policies are fairly typical of a national Democratic politician. He supported the 2006 reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, but argued that the earlier version of the legislation threatened civil liberties and joined Senate Democrats in revising the Act to address these concerns.

Tom's Take:

Obama is the only candidate of either party with significant civil rights activism and grassroots organizing experience. His time in civil rights activism exceeds the amount of time he has spent as a national politician. Obama is also the only viable presidential candidate in my memory to have taught constitutional law professionally, for more than a decade, before running for president. Although Obama tends to be a fairly mainstream Democrat on most issues, and his positions on campaign reform and gun rights will be a significant and understandable concern to many, his overall platform is among the strongest of the top-tier candidates in both parties. He is by no means a perfect civil liberties candidate, but he is a much stronger civil liberties candidate than any of his remaining opponents.
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