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Black Civil Rights Groups To Meet With Democratic Leaders On Voting

The meeting is the first since the NAACP, the oldest civil rights group in the country, announced that it would not be renewing the contract of its former president and CEO Cornell William Brooks.

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Amid uncertainty about the immediate direction of the NAACP, black civil rights groups will meet with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday.

The meeting will be the first since the NAACP, the oldest civil rights group in the country, announced that it would not be renewing the contract of former president and CEO Cornell William Brooks. His firing was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

It is also the first time the groups will meet with Schumer since Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama, took over as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella organization of over 200 national groups. Gupta, a 42-year-old Indian-American, started this month, replacing Wade Henderson. It was not immediately clear whether Gupta would be attending the meeting.

With the Democrats now out of power, the groups are keenly interested in a set of issues — voting rights, civil rights efforts at agencies, and sentencing laws — over which the Trump administration has enormous leverage. Despite the daily crisis zone in Washington, federal action is still quietly taking place.

Perhaps the most pressing item on the agenda, the groups say, is the development of a strategy to counter Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, established in May by executive order. Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund — which is unrelated to the NAACP — is gearing up for a fight. Ifill is concerned and “very, very focused” on voting rights, and is closely attuned to the actions of Vice President Mike Pence and the Kris Kobach-led commission on voter fraud, a source close to her said.

“This commission is a thinly veiled voter suppression task force,” Ifill said in May. “Far from upholding the integrity of our election system, it is designed to impugn the integrity of African-American and Latino participation in the political process.”

A spokesperson for Schumer’s office confirmed the meeting as “part of our ongoing dialogue with the civil rights groups,” noting that it was Schumer who initially reached out. A spokesperson for the National Urban League’s Marc Morial, one of the lead organizers of the meeting, said Morial will be discussing Trump’s budget, Senate Democrats’ plan to protect Obamacare, and staff diversity in the Senate.

The groups will also push Schumer on what Senate Democrats plan to do regarding a bill that would review federal sentencing guidelines, and reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who will attend the meeting on behalf of the National Action Network, told BuzzFeed News he expects to hear how Schumer and Senate Democrats intend to address the general threat that Trump poses, but also “retreats” in the Justice, Education, and Labor Departments. “They should be on the floor of the Senate screaming about that,” said Sharpton.

The groups have met with Schumer periodically since the election. Trump’s budget would gut the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, which enforces federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and religion. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, will also participate.

Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Darren Sands at darren.sands@buzzfeed.com.

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