Black women's policy priorities promoted by Van Hollen and activists.

March 17,2023 : Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland urged Congress to take action to protect voting rights and praised the participation of Black women in politics during a press conference held on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Dozens of activists from the Black Women’s Roundtable, an empowerment program aimed at mobilizing Black participation in American democracy, had gathered in Washington to advocate for various national issues, including voting rights protection and criminal justice reform.

Van Hollen called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would require states with a history of voting discrimination to obtain permission before changing their voting procedures. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, state legislatures have introduced 150 restrictive voting bills and 27 election interference bills so far this year, and many states have passed laws that make it harder for voters of color to cast their ballots since 2020.

Advocates from the Black Women’s Roundtable also called on Congress to address criminal justice reform. They emphasized how issues related to policing and criminal justice affect Black Americans across the country, with Black people comprising 62 percent of drug offenders admitted to state prisons, and one in 19 Black Americans excluded from voting in some way due to felony disenfranchisement convictions.

Sheena Meade, CEO of the Clean Slate Initiative, called for “clean slate” laws that could seal arrest records for people convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses who have completed their sentences. During the press conference, Meade highlighted the fact that roughly 4.6 million Americans cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement convictions, and many Black Americans have been shut out of civic engagement due to over-policing in their communities.

Melanie Campbell, the president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, stressed that criminal justice reform is essential for the lives of Black Americans. She also called on Congress to prioritize the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement across the country.

Although Van Hollen acknowledged the progress made in Congress on other issues affecting Black Americans, he agreed with advocates that lawmakers must prioritize criminal justice reform and the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. He emphasized the need to end the national scandal of mass incarceration in the United States and establish constitutional policing.