Joint Center Letter to Senator-Elect Doug Jones (December 2017)
December 19, 2017
The Honorable Doug Jones
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator-Elect Jones:
Congratulations on your historic victory in last week’s election. As you prepare to staff your local and Washington, DC offices, we believe it is vital that you do so with a recognition of the profound lack of racial diversity that currently exists among staff in the U.S. Senate. We urge you to commit to making diversity a priority in hiring by doing the following:
- Embrace the “Rooney Rule” and interview at least one person of color for every senior position in your office;
- Commit to hiring diverse candidates throughout your offices to ensure that the demographics of your office reflect the demographics of Alabama and America;
- Commit to hiring at least one person of color for a senior staff position in your Washington office, defined as chief of staff, legislative director, and communications director.
Members of Congress cannot fully represent all the communities they were elected to serve without advisors that reflect the whole of America.
As you may know, earlier this year the Senate Democratic Caucus adopted the Rooney Rule, a commitment to interviewing at least one person of color for senior staff positions. We ask that you embrace this caucus rule and interview people of color for senior positions in your respective offices.
A diverse coalition is not only essential in securing electoral victories, but also fundamental in creating policy that fully represents the voices of Americans.
Staffers provide political and policy expertise, develop legislation, and act as representatives for Members with constituents and advocacy organizations. They also manage offices, hire and remove employees, and work with you to respond publicly during times of crisis. While Senators make the final decision, senior Senate staff in particular possess significant influence in shaping the legislative process and oversight of federal components that have over four million civilian and military personnel and multibillion dollar budgets. Senior Senate staff positions are also important because the Senate has several unique responsibilities, including the confirmation of federal judges, cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, and many other top federal agency officials.
In December 2015, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies conducted a study on Racial Diversity Among Top Senate Staff. In a nation that was 36 percent minority, just 7.1 percent of senior Senate staffers, defined then as chief of staff, legislative director, communications director, and committee staff director, were people of color. In 2016, a movement began to remove the barriers that have closed the door of opportunity to qualified people of color seeking to serve the American people on Capitol Hill. The movement has been clear: the status quo is no longer acceptable. Diversity must be a priority.
As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them. Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole. Hiring at least one person of color to your senior staff in Washington would speak loudly, and we ask that you do so among the qualified applicants that you will receive.
The lack of diversity among top Senate staff is not caused by a complete absence of strong candidates of color. In the coming weeks, we intend to work closely with Leader Schumer’s Democratic Diversity Initiative to provide you with a slate of exemplary candidates for all positions in your Washington office. We would also be happy meet with you and your transition team to discuss best practices for identifying and attracting strong candidates of color.
Together, we can continue the progress in ensuring that our most democratic branch of government is truly representative of Alabama and our nation. We look forward to working with you.
Asian Improv Arts Midwest
Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Action Network
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)
NALEO Educational Fund
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL)
National Urban League
OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates
South Asian Fund For Education, Scholarship and Training (SAFEST)