Skimm2020PUBLISHED JAN 27, 2020

2020 Election: Social Justice

Social Issues 2020

The Story

Social justice can refer to a lot of different issues. The 2020 presidential candidates are focusing their policies around things like criminal justice reform, LGBTQ+ rights, and gender equality.

The Background

Social justice = the principle that everyone deserves to be treated equally. Including in the US criminal justice system. The country has the world’s highest incarceration rate. And there’s long been criticism about harsh sentences for, racial disparities between, and treatment of inmates. In 2018, lawmakers approved the biggest changes to criminal justice laws in more than a decade.

But presidential candidates want more change. One idea: legalizing marijuana. Another idea: ending the cash bail system

Another big focus of the 2020 race is protecting the more than 11 million LGBTQ+ American adults. Currently, there’s no federal law that spells out LGBTQ+ protections in the workplace. Many Democratic candidates support the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to things like jobs, housing, education, and public spaces.

Gender equality is also on candidates’ minds. On average, women in the US make about 80 cents to every dollar men make. The Trump admin rolled back an Obama-era rule implemented to help close the gap, arguing that the policy could have compromised privacy and confidentiality. Many candidates say they want to make the playing field more equal for women, but haven’t given specifics on how to make that happen. Most candidates on both sides of the aisle also want some type of mandated paid leave for Americans.


Social justice issues have become more prominent in this race than in the past. That’s in part because there's been a more diverse candidate pool: former prosecutors, the first openly gay candidate with a major campaign, and a record number of women. Here’s where the candidates stand:

Editor's note: This page will be updated as the candidate field narrows

Donald Trump Republican
President Donald Trump
  • Signed the First Step Act: first major overhaul of prison sentencing in over a decade, shortening some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses

  • Supports states setting their own marijuana policies

  • Signed a bill that includes 12 weeks paid family leave for federal workers

  • Passed religious exemptions to let adoption agencies, employers discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans

  • Banned transgender Americans from serving openly in military

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Joe Biden Democrat
Former VP Joe Biden
  • Helped write '90s crime bill some say contributed to mass incarceration

  • Wants to study long-term effects of marijuana before legalizing nationally. But would decriminalize marijuana, and leave it up to the states to decide whether to legalize

  • Voted for “don’t ask, don’t tell” – military policy barring openly gay people from serving; he's since evolved his approach to LGBTQ+ rights

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Bernie Sanders Independent
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Supports Equality Act

  • Legalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions

  • End for-profit prisons, cash bail, among other criminal justice reforms

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