Importance of Voting from a Slightly Different PerspectiveA Friendly Reminder from Your Civil Rights Legal Program (“CRLP”) Director
CCDC has always been amazing in its get-out-the-vote efforts. This year, it has assembled a get-out-the-vote team that is bigger and stronger than ever. As the Director of CCDC’s CRLP, I just want to remind you of one of the many reasons why or vote makes a difference. Attorneys who enforce civil rights laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities almost always must bring cases in federal court.
Enforcing your civil rights as a person with a disability or the family member or friend of a person with a disability depends on the judges who get nominated and appointed to federal courts.
If you are a voter (and if you are a CCDC member, we sure hope you are), it is incredibly important when voting to recognize the role that voting for Senators plays in the appointment and confirmation of federal court judges. Federal Judges are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. Nearly everyone who votes and follows politics knows this is true for the United States Supreme Court. But the same is true for all federal court judges.
So why are we talking about federal court?
Almost all laws that protect the civil rights of people with disabilities are federal laws. The ADA is just one of many examples. Federal courts have jurisdiction over federal laws.
Here is the Constitutional basis for why you will want to consider the position of the Senators you want to vote for:
Presidents appoint all federal Judges, no matter whether they are federal district court judges, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals judges or Justices on the Supreme Court. In Colorado, the Tenth Circuit is the court where appeals from the federal district court are decided. You can find this all in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution. This is known as the Appointments Clause which gives the President of the United States the power to appoint all federal judges with the “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate (meaning the Senators vote on whether to confirm the appointed judge or not). So almost all cases disability civil rights lawyers bring to enforce your rights as a person with a disability are filed in the federal court. The judge who is assigned to hear the case is a judge who is appointed by the President and is confirmed by the Senate.
There is a state law known as the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (“CADA”) that also provides civil rights protections for people with disabilities. Although CCDC and our state general assembly have done a great job of amending this law to improve it to protect your civil rights. This includes CRLP attorney Andrew Montoya’s work with several bill sponsors to amend the CADA with the passage of HB21-1110. This bill made it clear that government entities and agencies cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. It also makes Colorado the only state that requires that government entities are required to make their websites accessible for people who are blind. But even with the improvements made to the CADA, it does not yet allow for all of the opportunities that most federal laws provide to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. There are some laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities might be Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (this is just one example) that do not have a similar section in the CADA. For the time being, most disability civil rights cases will remain in federal court.
It is now time to cast your primary ballot. On that ballot, there are United States Senators running. Currently, the incumbent, Michael Bennett, is seeking another six-year term as one of your two Colorado United States Senators. He has two challengers. Of course, after the primary election voting is complete, the current Senator will have only one challenger for the general election.
So if disability civil rights causes are important to you, it is really important to find out what the candidates think and have done with respect to disability civil rights. You can look at their websites and research information about them. CCDC cannot tell you which candidates we believe you should vote for, but lawyers who bring these cases need your help. Does the candidate seek to enforce civil rights for people with disabilities? Is it something they are concerned with? Do they have a history of the subject? Those Senators who want to see the ADA and all of the other federal laws that protect our civil rights as people with disabilities enforced are far more likely to look to confirm judges who want these laws enforced.
If you can’t find information about the candidate’s disability civil rights record, contact their offices and ask. Let them know that you are a constituent who cares about the civil rights of people with disabilities and tell them why it is important to you. Then ask to find out what the candidate’s beliefs are about protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Choosing Senators who believe in the enforcement of our civil rights helps your lawyers help you.
Primary ballots are due June 28. The general election is on November 8. You have time to help your lawyers help you enforce the civil rights of people with disabilities.
 For those of you who don’t know, I am a person with a disability.
 One other helpful piece of information you should consider when voting for Senators (and the President when the time comes) is what vacancies there are on the United States District Court for the District of Colorado as well as vacancies on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This means it is helpful to know if there are openings on these courts that need to be filled by the President’s nomination and the Senate’s confirmation. One website for finding this information is the United States Federal Courts Vacancies website available at https://www.uscourts.gov/judges-judgeships/judicial-vacancies.