Blog of Rights

Deborah J.
Vagins

Deborah Vagins is senior legislative counsel at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. She leads the Washington Legislative Office’s civil rights advocacy efforts and develops pro-active strategies on pending federal legislation and executive branch actions concerning racial justice, education, employment discrimination, voting rights, and disability rights. Vagins has been instrumental in advocating for major civil rights legislation, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the 2006 Voting Rights Act reauthorization, among others..

 

Before joining the ACLU in 2005, Vagins served as the acting deputy general counsel and senior attorney-advisor to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Prior to that, Vagins was an associate at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, where she litigated high-profile nationwide civil rights class actions. She represented more than 1.5 million women from Wal-Mart in the largest Title VII employment discrimination class action in history. She was also an associate at Sidley & Austin in the civil, criminal and constitutional litigation practice group and founded the firm’s Committee for the Recruitment and Retention of Women. Earlier Vagins worked at EMILY’s List and clerked at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. Vagins graduated magna cum laude from the Washington College of Law at American University. She received her B.A. with distinction from Swarthmore College.

 


 

The Democracy Restoration Act: Creating A Broader and More Just Base of Voter Participation

The Democracy Restoration Act: Creating A Broader and More Just Base of Voter Participation

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:59pm

Jessica Chiappone was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. Since serving her prison sentence, she has turned her life around, completed law school and hopes to become a public defender. But because of her felony conviction, Jessica is unable to vote, hold public office or sit on a jury – all requirements for admission to the Florida Bar.

ACLU Testifies at Voter Suppression Forum on the Hill

ACLU Testifies at Voter Suppression Forum on the Hill

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Georgeanne M. Usova, Washington Legislative Office at 1:40pm

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives held a forum on Monday to shine a light on recent regressive voting laws throughout the country.

Laura W. Murphy, director of ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, reminded the panel that…

So You Think You Can Vote?

So You Think You Can Vote?

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Georgeanne M. Usova, Washington Legislative Office at 10:35am

This Election Day, we are faced with a dramatic rollback of the right to vote.

Time's Running Out to Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act -- Contact Your Senator Today!

Time's Running Out to Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act -- Contact Your Senator Today!

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:40pm

Call, email and tweet your senator today. As the clock ticks down in the 111th Congress, there is little time left to finish critical pieces of legislation.

An Arcane, Destructive — and Still Legal — Practice

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:10pm

(Originally posted on Huffington Post.)

On June 29, 2010, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced the "Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act," H.R. 5628. This bill would ban the use of corporal punishment in public schools…

Make Equal Pay Day Obsolete

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:12pm

Today, Equal Pay Day, marks how far women, on average, have to work into 2010 to be paid the same as men were paid in 2009. In other words, women have to work almost 16 months — nearly four months longer than men do — to make the same amount of…

The Democracy Restoration Act — Restoring a Civil Right Denied

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:54pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

As the Supreme Court has indicated, "[n]o right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined." Unfortunately, in America today, millions of citizens work, pay taxes, live in our communities and bring up families, yet they are without a voice. According to a 2008 ACLU/Brennan Center report, an estimated 5.3 million citizens cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction, and nearly 4 million of those citizens have been released from prison and are living and working in the community.

Worse still, felony disfranchisement laws are rooted in the Jim Crow era and were intended to bar minorities from voting. The impact of these laws continues today. Nationwide, 13 percent of African American men have lost the right to vote — a rate seven times the national average. Latino citizens are also disproportionately disfranchised because they are over-represented in the criminal justice system. In turn, this has impacted the families of those who are disfranchised and the communities in which they reside by reducing their collective political voice.

Confusion Surrounding State Laws

States have vastly different approaches to allowing those with criminal convictions to vote, which often compound the problems further. For example, some states disfranchise some, but not all, citizens with criminal convictions, while others allow voting after a sentence is completed or after release from prison. Two states, Virginia and Kentucky, permanently disfranchise citizens with felony convictions unless the state approves individual rights restoration; two states, Maine and Vermont, allow all persons with felony convictions to vote, even while incarcerated; all other states fall somewhere in between.

Liberty and Economic Justice For All

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:45pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Now more than ever, a family’s basic economic survival depends on pay equity. Without the ability to bring home every dollar rightfully earned without regard to gender, race, religion, age, or disability, there can be no economic justice for workers and true equality for all Americans.

President Obama probably best explained the importance of the fundamental fairness of equal pay to our country’s economic security when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill that restores the right of employees to challenge ongoing pay discrimination. He noted at the White House:

So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal — but bad for business — to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook — it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.

Ultimately, though, equal pay isn't just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it's a question of who we are — and whether we're truly living up to our fundamental ideals. Whether we'll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something — to breathe new life into them with the more enlightened understandings of our time.
Today, thanks to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the right to challenge an unlawful pay gap in court has been restored. Unfortunately, the pay gap itself still exists — women still on average only earn 78 cents for every dollar that men earn for doing the same job. The numbers are even worse for women of color.

A Step Towards Fair Pay With a Stroke of a Pen

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 6:49pm

(Originally posted on DailyKos.)

Just hours ago, I shared an incredible moment with Lilly Ledbetter — who stood in the White House and watched President Obama sign a piece of legislation bearing her name. One can only imagine what that…

We Must Honor the Legacy of Selma Foot Soldiers by Repairing What They Fought For

We Must Honor the Legacy of Selma Foot Soldiers by Repairing What They Fought For

By Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:53pm

In an important moment of bipartisanship, Congress unanimously passed a bill this month that honors the thousands of people who marched for voting rights 50 years ago in Selma, Alabama, with the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian…

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