Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Senator leaves long legacy on rights issues

By Jamie Loo
Civil Rights Act just the starting point of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s commitment to rights for all.

By Jamie Loo
First Amendment reporter

The right to vote, at age 18.

Increasing the minimum wage.

Employment opportunities for the disabled.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy helped make these civil rights and quality of life initiatives possible. The senator passed away at the age of 77 late Tuesday night.

History will remember Kennedy for many reasons but it’s his legislative achievements that will have the most lasting impact on the every day lives of Americans. In his 47 years in the Senate, Kennedy was a champion for civil rights, immigration, and health care reform. Kennedy authored more than 2,500 bills during his career and a few hundred became laws, according to his senate press office. The following is just a handful of Kennedy’s accomplishments to expand the rights of people in the United States.

Civil rights

Kennedy pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, education and public accommodations. In later years, he would continue to lead legislation to expand the protections in this act. Although, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act in 1988, Kennedy successfully led the charge for a congressional override. The Civil Rights Restoration Act required than any organization that receives federal funds must follow federal civil rights laws.
In 1991 he was the chief sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which provided additional protection and remedies in cases of intentional job discrimination and workplace harassment.

Kennedy also played a role in expanding voting rights, supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The senator fought to eliminate the poll tax by proposing it as an amendment to the act. The poll tax, a tax that had to be paid in order to vote, was one of hurdles that prevented many lower income residents and African-Americans from voting. The amendment to eliminate the tax didn’t make it into the final bill, but the Supreme Court later declared the poll tax unconstitutional in 1966.

During the Vietnam War in 1970, Kennedy pushed to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, arguing that if U.S. residents were old enough to fight and die for their country they should have the right to vote. Kennedy was the chief sponsor of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982, which were designed to increase minority representation in government. He was also the chief sponsor of the Voting Rights Language Assistance Act, which provided language assistance to Latino, Asian and Native American citizens with limited English skills at the polls.

The senator was also a champion for those with disabilities. Kennedy was one of the chief sponsors of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employers from discriminating against those with disabilities in the employment process and requires public accommodations for the disabled. The law opened the doors for the disabled to have more employment opportunities and to live fuller lives. Prior to that, Kennedy supported the passage of amendments to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibit discrimination against the disabled and children in the sale or rental of housing.

Kennedy was one of the key supporters of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects women from discrimination in educational institutions and expanded women’s athletics at colleges and universities. The senator also sponsored the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which improved the way the criminal justice system responds to victims and provides increased services to them. Kennedy was one of the Senate leaders in the passage of the 2008 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The act expands the time period to sue an employer for pay discrimination.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which would add wording to guarantee the rights under the Constitution to women, has been pushed by Kennedy every year since 1982.

In the early ‘90s, Kennedy sponsored the Family Medical Leave Act. Despite its passage in Congress twice and two presidential vetoes, Kennedy kept pushing for the legislation which was eventually signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Family Medical Leave Act requires employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave to care for a newborn, or personal or family medical issues.

The minimum wage was increased 16 times during Kennedy’s time in the Senate. He led the most recent push in 2007, which raised the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. It was the first change in the wage in a decade. He also played a role in the passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006.


The Immigration Act of 1965 reformed U.S. immigration policy, by eliminating the national origin quotas that were in the law. The quota system, which was based on race and ancestry, tended to favor immigrants from European countries. The act gradually phased out this system and created a system based on immigrant skills and family relationships. It was a turning point for immigration in this country. In 1968, Kennedy sponsored the Bilingual Education Act, which provided funding for bilingual education programs in schools to help immigrant children.

Kennedy authored the Refugee Act of 1980, which improved U.S. policy toward refugees fleeing from war by establishing a more equitable admissions process, and more humanitarian assistance with resettlement.


Kennedy called healthcare reform the cause of his life and gave his first speech on it in 1969. What followed were numerous acts to expand health care and quality of life. Among these are the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA); Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Kennedy was also a leader in creating the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC), which offers food, nutrition counseling and health access.

Senator Orrin Hatch and Kennedy were the driving forces behind the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990, which created a federal program for people with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. It provided federal funding to states to develop programs geared toward early diagnosis and home care, as well as emergency funding to cities hardest hit by the epidemic. The act has been reauthorized repeatedly over the years.

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Brittanicus said...

Instead of pandering to the business community, our elected politicians must execute E-Verify as permanent tool to draw illegal workers away from the workplace? It must not be voluntary to be enforced, with serious penalties for employers who disregard the law. Heavy fines should be imposed, along with asset confiscation and for hiring a large force of illegal foreign workers a lengthy prison sentence. Nobody in the workplace should be exempt from being positively identified as a Citizen or a US permanent resident. Even the longest employed worker should be checked through the system. E-Verification should be built upon, with any new innovations desired to stop jobs being stolen from those legally allowed to work.

Many ICE raids across the nation have proved beyond doubt the extent of illegal nationals taking jobs of citizens and how expeditiously these unfilled jobs were taken back by bona-fide workers in the poultry industry. Americans in the working environment should report any illegal activity to ICE, so they can investigate. E-Verify is the only substantial program in immigration armory that must not be weakened. It is evident that it’s operational owing to the tireless assault of the ACLU, US Chamber of Commerce to silence its function in the courts. Now is the time to pressure your reluctant elected official, specifically in California. This Sanctuary Refuge for illegal aliens and their families have been overloading schools, hospitals and government welfare benefits to pacify special interest lobbyists.

Voters should also immediately mandate installation of E-Verify nationwide in vetting the janitor to an engineer, from a sheet metal worker to an advertising executive. When the welfare state of California nearly financially collapsed, it can be partially attributed to the massive population of illegal immigrants. The time is ripe to shout aloud of the decades of inflated taxes supporting education to K-12, free medical care and considerably more which stays intentionally undisclosed to the public. MAKE A NOTE OF THIS WASHINGTON SWITCHBOARD NUMBER 202-224-3121. Like never before we need the Nation Guard to patrol the border on a permanent basis, to support the undermanned region.

Democrats declare in the town hall meetings, that foreign nationals have--NO--access to benefits in Obama's health care reform.
But if a path to citizenship or AMNESTY is not--TABLED--in the coming Immigration Reform session, then one-and-all, will automatically be provided for as new citizens into the health care program. In addition we must consider the gigantic onslaught of millions more who will try to join those already here? WE CANNOT EVEN PROVIDE MEDICAL FOR OUR OWN POPULATION? I CONCUR WITH A PUBLIC OPTION-BUT NOT FOR FOREIGN NATIONALS.


6:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at