On the Eve of President Obama’s Last State of the Union Address, LDF Celebrates Civil Rights Successes, But Urges President to Focus on Five Urgent Equality Issues

On the eve of President Obama’s last State of the Union Address, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) celebrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to core principles of equality over the past seven years.  We also applaud the administration’s efforts to advance civil rights through legislation, executive orders, targeted agency regulations, and public and moral leadership.  

There are important issues of racial equality, affecting communities of color across the nation, that need immediate attention, however.  We believe the Administration can address these issues effectively before the end of the President’s term. 

“President Obama has made significant progress ensuring that all Americans can live, work, and raise their families in a truly inclusive society.  However, we call on the President to address five urgent civil rights issues involving police and judicial reform, prisoner clemency, and education reform.  We also encourage the President to push for the further diversification of appointments to the federal judiciary,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director Counsel.  

Ifill added: “We are hopeful that, with less than a year left in his presidency, the President will discuss these important issues in his State of the Union Address tomorrow evening.”

Specifically, the LDF urges the Obama Administration to take action on the following five critical civil rights issues:

  1. ensuring mandatory data collection and training by law enforcement recipients of federal funds;
  2. expanding prisoner reentry efforts to include steps to ensure that persons returning from prison have government-issued photo identifications and other forms of identification prior to release; 
  3. expanding executive clemency efforts by granting more pardons to deserving former federal  prisoners;
  4. ensuring robust implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and 
  5. appointing an African-American judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.   

Click here for more detailed information on the five urgent civil rights issues that LDF hopes President Obama will address during the remainder of his term.


Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.  In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.


NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) Details Five Urgent Civil Rights Issues It Hopes President Obama Will Address Before The End of His Last Term in Office

January 11, 2016

  1. Ensure Mandatory Data Collection and Training by Law Enforcement Recipients of Federal Funds
    While we welcome the Obama Administration’s actions in addressing policing reform, we urge it to go further by requiring law enforcement agencies receiving federal funding to collect use-of-force and traffic and pedestrian stop data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, national origin, age and sex.  We also urge the Administration to train officers on implicit bias and use of force and de-escalation techniques.  Grant recipients must also monitor their officers’ compliance with this training. 

    Recent and highly-publicized police-involved shooting deaths of African Americans–including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, and Tamir Rice–by police officers who have not been held accountable by the justice system or police agencies, have caused public confidence in police to plummet in communities of color. It is difficult to ascertain the full extent of the problem because there are no reliable national data on police-involved killings of civilians—a reality that Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has acknowledged. 

    To address this problem, FBI officials recently announced that they will expand their use-of-force data collection to include incidents in which officers cause serious injury or death.  Under this new effort, however, law enforcement agencies will continue to provide the data only voluntarily; therefore the data may continue to be incomplete and unreliable. 

    Additionally, through President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the Administration has noted the need for law enforcement agencies to acknowledge past and present racial discrimination in policing practices and to take steps to address it, including the implementation of trainings at all levels of law enforcement to ensure fair and impartial policing.  

    Data collection and training requirements, tied to federal funding, would assist the Department of Justice in meeting its obligation to ensure that recipients of federal funding are not engaging in discriminatory practices prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and other civil rights laws. 

  2. Expand Reentry Efforts to Include Steps to Ensure that Persons Returning from Prison Have Government-Issued Photo Identifications and Other Forms of ID Prior to Release 

    We urge the Obama Administration to direct federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Prisons and the Social Security Administration, to ensure that persons leaving prisons can access some form of identification, preferably photo identification, prior to release.   We urge President Obama to encourage the governors of all fifty states to do the same.

    Over 600,000 persons are released from federal and state prisons each year.  Many leave these facilities without any form of photo identification, such as a birth certificate, social security card, or photo identification.  Without photo identification, persons returning to communities from prisons will be unable to open bank accounts or access housing, employment, and health benefits, which are all necessary steps toward successful reintegration into society.  

    The Obama Administration has taken several welcomed actions to ensure that persons returning to communities across the country have the support they need to reintegrate successfully. These measures will address many of the barriers faced by persons with criminal records in seeking employment, education, housing, health care, and public services.  They also include a range of policy changes, funding provisions, and education, training, and record-clearing opportunities.   The issuance of photo identification is a vital further step for former prisoners reintegrating into society.

  3. Expand Executive Clemency Efforts By Granting More Pardons to Deserving Former Federal Prisoners

    We urge the Administration to continue to grant sentence commutations and take steps to greatly increase the number of pardons it grants to deserving federal prisoners. We are encouraged by news reports that the Office of Pardons in the Department of Justice plans to hire additional attorneys to assist with the executive clemency process. 

    The Administration’s record of commuting the sentences of nonviolent federal prisoners, 184 to date, which has resulted or will result in their release to communities around the country, is laudable.   To date, President Obama has granted only 66 pardons, which are fewer than President Obama’s predecessors.  President George Bush granted 189 pardons, and President Bill Clinton granted 396 pardons, for example. 

    Unlike sentence commutations, pardons would offer persons who have paid their debt to society a second chance to be productive citizens by allowing them to restore some of their civil rights, such as voting, which were lost due to federal criminal convictions. 

  4. Ensure Robust Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) 

    Under ESSA, we urge the Administration to use its full authority to help close persistent achievement gaps and address inequities in education.  The Administration should identify and remedy resource inequities, take meaningful steps to end the increasing racial and economic segregation plaguing our public schools, and promote positive and inclusive school climates that ensure that all students can learn and thrive in safe and welcoming environments. 

    The latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was signed into law in December 2015.  Although the ESSA did not include all of the provisions that LDF sought in the legislation, it is imperative that the Administration use its last year to issue strong regulations, guidance, and technical assistance to ensure that states and local education agencies are implementing the law in ways which promote accountability and equity for all children.  In signing the ESSA, President Obama noted that “[l]aws are only as good as the implementation.” 

    By focusing on school funding and resource equity, the reintegration of youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and the establishment of statistically sound methods for assessing the academic performance of groups of students (including students of color), the Administration can help ensure that implementation of ESSA fulfills the core goals of this important legislation.

  5. Appoint an African-American Judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit  

    President Obama should appoint an African American from Alabama to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to ensure more racial diversity on this important Southern court.  The Eleventh Circuit is the federal appellate court serving Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.  Because the U.S. Supreme Court considers so few cases, this appellate court is often the court of last resort for residents of these three states.  Although the Eleventh Circuit has the highest percentage of African-American residents (25%) of any circuit in the country, only one of its twelve judges is African-American. 

    A vacancy from Alabama has existed for over two years on this court.  Alabama has never been represented by an African-American judge on the Eleventh Circuit.  Since 1891, only white males from Alabama have sat on the federal appellate court.  The appointment of an African American from Alabama to the Eleventh Circuit is long overdue.  The Administration should promptly nominate a candidate and work to secure timely confirmation by the Senate.