Democratic presidential candidates on Friday touted their plans on criminal justice reform, the study of reparations and other racial equality issues, highlighting the critical role black voters will play in choosing the party’s 2020 nominee.

Speaking at the National Action Network’s conference in New York, California Sen. Kamala Harris pledged to double the size of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and to sign legislation creating a commission to study reparations to African Americans hurt by slavery.


“We know that they are using the Department of Justice in a way that is about politics and not about pursuit of equality,” Harris, one of two black candidates for the party’s nomination, told the receptive audience. Earlier on Friday, she told a radio interviewer she would be open to choosing a woman as her running mate if she wins the nomination to take on President Donald Trump.

She’s one of more than a half-dozen White House hopefuls who have spoken at the conference to spotlight their records on remedying economic and social inequities that have impeded African American communities. Democratic presidential contenders slated to address the group later Friday at its annual convention include Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper used his speech to the group to outline his record on policing, suggesting that the nation “shutter some prisons altogether.”

In her speech, Warren plans to escalate her call for Democrats to end the 60-vote requirement for many major bills to clear the Senate if her party wins the White House and Republicans try to block their agenda. Warren’s prepared remarks outline the history of the Senate filibuster’s use “as a tool to block progress on racial justice.”

Warren will say that Democrats should “be bold and clear” if they take back the presidency, invoking Republican obstruction of former President Barack Obama’s agenda and adding that if Republicans place “small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is leading the convention, told attendees it is about “mainstreaming the racial divide in America” as well as “changing the conversation, so we’re all included.”