Justice Democrats is an American progressive political action committee founded on January 23, 2017, by Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, and former leadership from the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Uygur and Kulinski are no longer affiliated with the group. Alexandra Rojas became executive director of the organization in May 2018. The organization formed as a result of the 2016 United States presidential election and has a stated goal of reforming the Democratic Party by running “a unified campaign to replace every corporate-backed member of Congress” and rebuilding the Democratic Party from “scratch” starting in the 2018 congressional midterm elections.
Justice Democrats describes its views as being held by most Americans, but deemed “politically impossible” by the current political establishment because of systemic political corruption. Members of the Justice Democrats comment that as all campaigns need donations and that candidates who hold policies viewed as unfavorable by corporate interests and wealthy individuals will be denied funding by corporations. Therefore the system actually ends up forcing politicians to change their policies to suit the current business environment.
In the 2018 elections, 26 of the 79 candidates endorsed by Justice Democrats won their respective primary elections. Seven of these candidates won in the general election: Raúl Grijalva, Ro Khanna, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Pramila Jayapal. Districts won ranged from D+13 to D+34 on the Cook PVI, meaning solid Democrat. No swing districts were won, though Kara Eastman and Ammar Campa-Najjar came close in their respective races.
After the 2016 presidential election resulted in a victory for Donald Trump, many progressives pointed to the perceived loyalty of politicians to large donors as a major contributing factor to Clinton’s loss to Trump. These critics contend that a campaign finance model more similar to that of Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 presidential campaign was funded by small individual donations, will increase public trust in politicians and accountability to constituents.
On January 23, 2017, Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski founded Justice Democrats with ten others, including former staffers from the Sanders campaign such as its Director of Organizing Technology, Saikat Chakrabarti, and MoveOn.org fundraiser Zack Exley. According to the organization, they seek to create a left-wing populist movement to support alternative Democratic candidates beginning with the 2018 mid-term elections, in order to either defeat the incumbent Democrats or cause them to become accountable to their constituents. They require their candidates to take a pledge to refuse financial contributions from billionaires and corporations. In addition, they hope to rebuild the Democratic Party on a national level and to defeat President Trump if he runs for re-election in 2020.
The Democrats used to represent something wonderful – voters. We want you to represent just us, not your donors.
— Cenk Uygur explaining the name of the group
Justice Democrats announced in March 2017 they had teamed up with Brand New Congress, a PAC established by former Sanders campaign supporters, to further their goals.
As of March 20, 2017, Justice Democrats have reported they have received 8,300 nominations and raised $1 million.
Representative Ro Khanna of California’s 17th congressional district announced on May 9, 2017, that he had become a Justice Democrat, and the first sitting member of Congress to join the organization. On November 1, 2017, Justice Democrats announced on social media that fellow progressive group All Of Us had merged with the group.
On December 22, 2017, it was announced that Uygur had resigned from his position at the organization, following the revelation of previously deleted but archived controversial blog posts he had written. The following day, Kulinski announced that he had stepped down from the organization as he disagreed with the opinions of the Justice Democrats staff members that pressed for Uygur’s dismissal over the blog posts. He said his decision came as a result of a personal dilemma as he saw the posts in question upon re-reading them as being satirical due to them dealing with Uygur complaining about his inability to attract women. Kulinski noted that the decision to ask for Uygur’s resignation came from Justice Democrat staff, not the candidates, and as such he asked his supporters to continue backing the organization’s candidates.
Ideology and political issues
According to Justice Democrats, their highest priority is to effectively eliminate the role of money and conflicts of interests in politics. As such, any candidate running with Justice Democrats must pledge to refuse any donations from billionaires or corporations. Declining money from corporate PACs and supporting Medicare For All have both been described as litmus tests for the organization. Justice Democrats support the idea of publicly funded elections, banning Super PACs as well as banning private donations to politicians and campaigns. In addition, they advocate the reinstatement of provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a ban on gerrymandering for partisan gain. Several members have voiced support for a constitutional amendment aimed at removing money from American politics.
To accompany its launch, Kulinski and Uygur published the following set of progressive founding principles for the coalition. Adjustments have been made since 2017, resulting in a slightly different platform appearing on the Justice Democrats webpage at a given time.
Creating a new infrastructure program called the “Green New Deal”
Discontinuing arms sales to countries that violate human rights such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt
Enacting a federal jobs guarantee, which would promise all Americans a job paying $15 per hour plus benefits
Ending the death penalty
Ending the practice of unilaterally waging war, except as a last resort to defend U.S. territory
Ending the War on Drugs in favor of legalization, regulation, and taxation of drugs, and pardoning all non-violent drug offenders and treating all drug addicts
Ensuring free speech on college campuses and supporting net neutrality
Ensuring universal education as a right, including free public college and university education
Ensuring universal healthcare as a right
Establishing paid maternity leave, paid vacation leave, and free childcare
Expanding anti-discrimination laws to apply to LGBT people -see Equality Act
Expanding background checks on firearms and banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons
Funding Planned Parenthood and other contraceptive and abortion services, and recognizing reproductive rights
Implementing electoral reform and publicly financed elections nationwide to make irrelevant and obsolete fundraising from large corporations and the wealthy
Implementing instant-runoff voting nationwide in an effort to make third-party and independent candidates more viable
Implementing the Buffett Rule, ending offshore financial centers, “chain[ing]” the capital gains and income taxes, and increasing the estate tax
Making the minimum wage a living wage and tying it to inflation
Pardoning Edward Snowden, prosecuting CIA torturers and DoD war criminals, shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and all other extrajudicial prisons, and ending warrantless spying and bulk data collection by the National Security Agency
Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act
Abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE)
Reforming police by mandating body cameras, establishing community oversight boards, eliminating broken windows policing, ending stop and frisk, and appointing special prosecutors to hold police accountable in courts
Renegotiating other free trade deals CAFTA-DR, and NAFTA and opposing the Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China and the World Trade Organization
Stopping any reductions to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and establishing single-payer universal healthcare
Stopping anthropogenic climate change through an ecological revolution and upholding the United States’ participation in the Paris Climate Agreement
Uncompromisingly rejecting President Trump’s immigration proposals and policies, particularly the Executive Order 13769 and deportation of illegal immigrants, and implementing comprehensive immigration reform which will give non-criminal illegal immigrants a path to citizenship
As of August 22, 2018, there were 79 candidates officially endorsed by Justice Democrats in the 2018 election cycle.
Candidate State Office Primary date Primary result % General result %
Ben Jealous Maryland Governor of Maryland 2018-06-26 Won 39.8% Lost 43.5%
Abdul El-Sayed Michigan Governor of Michigan 2018-08-07 Lost 30.2% Did not qualify N/A
Cynthia Nixon New York Governor of New York 2018-09-13 Lost 34.4% Withdrew[n 1] N/A
Matt Brown Rhode Island Governor of Rhode Island 2018-09-12 Lost 34.3% Did not qualify N/A
Christine Hallquist Vermont Governor of Vermont 2018-08-14 Won 48.4% Lost 40.4%
Candidate State Office Primary date Primary result % General result %
Aaron Regunberg Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island 2018-09-12 Lost 49.2% Did not qualify N/A
Candidate State Office Primary date Primary result % General result %
Deedra Abboud Arizona U.S. Senator from Arizona 2018-08-28 Lost 19.5% Did not qualify N/A
Alison Hartson California U.S. Senator from California 2018-06-05 Lost 2.1% Did not qualify N/A
Kerri Evelyn Harris Delaware U.S. Senator from Delaware 2018-09-06 Lost 35.4% Did not qualify N/A
Paula Jean Swearengin West Virginia U.S. Senator from West Virginia 2018-05-08 Lost 30.3% Did not qualify N/A
Candidate State Office Primary date Primary result % General result %
Mary Matiella Arizona Arizona’s 2nd congressional district 2018-08-28 Lost 9.1% Did not qualify N/A
Raúl Grijalva[n 2] Arizona Arizona’s 3rd congressional district 2018-08-28 Won[n 3] 100% Won 63.39%
Brianna Westbrook Arizona Arizona’s 8th congressional district 2018-02-27[n 4] Lost 40.4% Did not qualify N/A
2018-08-28 Withdrew[n 5] N/A Did not qualify N/A
Audrey Denney California[n 6] California’s 1st congressional district 2018-06-05 Advanced 17.5% Lost 43.2%
Roza Calderon California[n 6] California’s 4th congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 6.2% Did not qualify N/A
Dotty Nygard California[n 6] California’s 10th congressional district 2018-06-05 Withdrew 0.9% Did not qualify N/A
Ro Khanna[n 2] California[n 6] California’s 17th congressional district 2018-06-05 Won 59.1% Won 73.2%
Bryan Caforio California[n 6] California’s 25th congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 18.3% Did not qualify N/A
Laura Oatman California[n 6] California’s 48th congressional district 2018-06-05 Withdrew 1.4% Did not qualify N/A
Doug Applegate California[n 6] California’s 49th congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 13.2% Did not qualify N/A
Ammar Campa-Najjar California[n 6] California’s 50th congressional district 2018-06-05 Advanced 16.3% Lost 48.3%
Saira Rao Colorado Colorado’s 1st congressional district 2018-06-26 Lost 29.1% Did not qualify N/A
Stephany Rose Spaulding Colorado Colorado’s 5th congressional district 2018-06-26 Won[n 3] 100% Lost 39.3%
Chardo Richardson Florida Florida’s 7th congressional district 2018-08-28 Lost 13.8% Did not qualify N/A
Sanjay Patel Florida Florida’s 8th congressional district 2018-08-28 Won[n 3] 100% Lost 39.5%
Pam Keith Florida Florida’s 18th congressional district 2018-08-28 Lost 39.7% Did not qualify N/A
Michael Hepburn Florida Florida’s 27th congressional district 2018-08-28 Lost 6.1% Did not qualify N/A
Lisa Ring Georgia Georgia’s 1st congressional district 2018-05-22 Won 67.6% Lost 42.2%
Kaniela Ing Hawaii Hawaii’s 1st congressional district 2018-08-11 Lost 6.3% Did not qualify N/A
Marie Newman Illinois Illinois’s 3rd congressional district 2018-03-20 Lost 48.8% Did not qualify N/A
Sameena Mustafa Illinois Illinois’s 5th congressional district 2018-03-20 Lost 23.9% Did not qualify N/A
Anthony Clark Illinois Illinois’s 7th congressional district 2018-03-20 Lost 26.1% Did not qualify N/A
David Gill Illinois Illinois’s 13th congressional district 2018-03-20 Lost 14.4% Did not qualify N/A
Dan Canon Indiana Indiana’s 9th congressional district 2018-05-08 Lost 30.7% Did not qualify N/A
Courtney Rowe Iowa Iowa’s 1st congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 7.5% Did not qualify N/A
Pete D’Allesandro Iowa Iowa’s 3rd congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 15.6% Did not qualify N/A
Brent Welder Kansas Kansas’s 3rd congressional district 2018-08-07 Lost 33.9% Did not qualify N/A
James Thompson Kansas Kansas’s 4th congressional district 2018-08-07 Won 65.3% Lost 40.2%
Roger Manno Maryland Maryland’s 6th congressional district 2018-06-26 Lost 10.2% Did not qualify N/A
Juana Matias Massachusetts Massachusetts’s 3rd congressional district 2018-09-04 Lost 15.2% Did not qualify N/A
Ayanna Pressley Massachusetts Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district 2018-09-04 Won 58.6% Won 98.2%[n 3]
Matt Morgan Michigan Michigan’s 1st congressional district 2018-08-07 Won[n 3][n 7] 100% Lost 43.7%
Rob Davidson Michigan Michigan’s 2nd congressional district 2018-08-07 Won[n 3] 100% Lost 43.0%
David Benac Michigan Michigan’s 6th congressional district 2018-08-07 Lost 21.3% Did not qualify N/A
Fayrouz Saad Michigan Michigan’s 11th congressional district 2018-08-07 Lost 19.4% Did not qualify N/A
Rashida Tlaib Michigan Michigan’s 13th congressional district 2018-08-07[n 8] Lost 35.9% Did not qualify N/A
2018-08-07 Won 31.2% Won 84.6%
Ilhan Omar Minnesota Minnesota’s 5th congressional district 2018-08-14 Won 48.4% Won 78.2%
Cori Bush Missouri Missouri’s 1st congressional district 2018-08-07 Lost 36.9% Did not qualify N/A
Jamie Schoolcraft Missouri Missouri’s 7th congressional district 2018-08-07 Won 40.6% Lost 30.0%
John Heenan Montana Montana’s at-large congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 31.7% Did not qualify N/A
Kara Eastman Nebraska Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district 2018-05-15 Won 51.4% Lost 49.0%
Amy Vilela Nevada Nevada’s 4th congressional district 2018-06-12 Lost 9.2% Did not qualify N/A
Tanzie Youngblood New Jersey New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 19.2% Did not qualify N/A
Peter Jacob New Jersey New Jersey’s 7th congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 19.1% Did not qualify N/A
Antoinette Sedillo Lopez New Mexico New Mexico’s 1st congressional district 2018-06-05 Lost 20.6% Did not qualify N/A
Michael DeVito New York New York’s 11th congressional district 2018-06-26 Lost 19.0% Did not qualify N/A
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez New York New York’s 14th congressional district 2018-06-26 Won 57.5% Won 78.2%
Jeff Beals New York New York’s 19th congressional district 2018-06-26 Lost 13.2% Did not qualify N/A
Patrick Nelson New York New York’s 21st congressional district 2018-06-26 Lost 9.2% Did not qualify N/A
Ian Golden New York New York’s 23rd congressional district 2018-06-26 Lost 13.5% Did not qualify N/A
Jenny Marshall North Carolina North Carolina’s 5th congressional district 2018-05-08 Lost 45.6% Did not qualify N/A
John Russell Ohio Ohio’s 12th congressional district 2018-05-08[n 9] Lost 16.7% Did not qualify N/A
2018-05-08 Lost 16.3% Did not qualify N/A
Greg Edwards Pennsylvania Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district 2018-05-15 Lost 25.6% Did not qualify N/A
Jess King Pennsylvania Pennsylvania’s 11th congressional district 2018-05-15 Won[n 3] 100% Lost 41.4%
J. Darnell Jones Texas[n 10] Texas’s 2nd congressional district 2018-03-06
First round Lost 22.1% Did not qualify N/A
Lorie Burch Texas[n 10] Texas’s 3rd congressional district 2018-03-06
First round Advanced 49.6% Runoff N/A
Runoff Won 75.0% Lost 44.2%
Laura Moser Texas[n 10] Texas’s 7th congressional district 2018-03-06
First round Advanced 24.4% Runoff N/A
Runoff Lost 32.1% Did not qualify N/A
Vanessa Adia Texas[n 10] Texas’s 12th congressional district 2018-03-06 Won[n 3] 100% Lost 33.9%
Adrienne Bell Texas[n 10] Texas’s 14th congressional district 2018-03-06 Won 79.8% Lost 39.2%
Derrick Crowe Texas[n 10] Texas’s 21st congressional district 2018-03-06
First round Lost 23.1% Did not qualify N/A
Mary Wilson Texas[n 10] Texas’s 21st congressional district 2018-03-06
First round Advanced 30.9% Runoff N/A
Runoff Lost 42.1% Did not qualify N/A
Rick Treviño Texas[n 10] Texas’s 23rd congressional district 2018-03-06
First round Advanced 17.5% Runoff N/A
Runoff Lost 31.9% Did not qualify N/A
Linsey Fagan Texas[n 10] Texas’s 26th congressional district 2018-03-06 Won 52.7% Lost 39.0%
Darlene McDonald Utah Utah’s 4th congressional district 2018-06-26 Eliminated[n 11] N/A Did not qualify N/A
Dorothy Gasque Washington[n 6] Washington’s 3rd congressional district 2018-08-07 Lost 4.9% Did not qualify N/A
Pramila Jayapal[n 2] Washington[n 6] Washington’s 7th congressional district 2018-08-07 Won 82.7% Won 83.4%
Sarah Smith Washington[n 6] Washington’s 9th congressional district 2018-08-07 Advanced 26.9% Lost 32.1%
Randy Bryce Wisconsin Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district 2018-08-14 Won 59.6% Lost 42.3%
Summer for Progress
Several progressive organizations, including Our Revolution, Democratic Socialists of America, National Nurses United, Working Families Party, and Brand New Congress, announced in July 2017 a push to encourage House Democrats to sign on to a #PeoplesPlatform, which consists of supporting “eight bills currently in the House of Representatives that will address the concerns of everyday Americans.” These eight bills and the topics they address are:
Medicare for All: H.R. 676, the Medicare For All Act
Free College Tuition: H.R. 1880, the College for All Act of 2017
Worker Rights: H.R. 15, the Raise the Wage Act
Women’s Rights: H.R. 771, the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2017
Voting Rights: H.R. 2840, the Automatic Voter Registration Act
Environmental Justice: H.R. 4114, the Environmental Justice Act of 2017
Criminal Justice and Immigrant Rights: H.R. 3227, the Justice Is Not for Sale Act of 2017
Taxing Wall Street: H.R. 1144, the Inclusive Prosperity Act
On May 9, 2017, Ro Khanna of California’s 17th congressional district announced that he was a member of Justice Democrats and supported the organization’s agenda.
On December 6, 2017, Justice Democrats announced that Raul Grijalva of Arizona’s 3rd congressional district had joined the group.
Justice Democrats pushed for Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th congressional district to run for the Senate seat once occupied by Senator Al Franken. Ellison declined to run for the Senate seat. Ellison, Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee, has not announced whether or not he supports Justice Democrats, and has left Congressional politics; although subsequently running for, and winning, the 2018 Minnesota Attorney General election.
On April 16, 2018, Justice Democrats announced that Pramila Jayapal of Washington’s 7th congressional district had joined the group.
On January 3, 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th congressional district, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th congressional district and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 13th congressional district were sworn in as members of the House of Representatives and as Justice Democrats.
Despite losing the primary, Nixon had a slot in the general election as the nominee of the Working Families Party. On October 3, the Working Families Party offered their party’s ballot line to the incumbent governor (and winner of the Democratic primary), Andrew Cuomo, and he accepted on October 5.
Special election to replace Trent Franks, who resigned on December 8, 2017
Running for the Arizona Senate in the 22nd district
California and Washington use a jungle primary system, where all candidates run on one primary ballot, regardless of party affiliation, and the top two finishers advance to the general election.
Due to a logistical error in his campaign filing, Morgan was unable to appear on the primary ballot. As he was the only Democrat to file to run in this district, he was able to win the primary with write-in votes.
Special election to replace John Conyers, who resigned on December 5, 2017
Special election to replace Pat Tiberi, who resigned on January 15, 2018
Texas uses a two-round primary system. If a candidate receives above 50% of the vote in the first round, they become the party’s nominee; otherwise, the top two finishers advance to a second round.
In Utah, a state convention was held on April 21; of the 381 delegates present from the 4th district, McDonald won 25% of the votes and Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams won 72%. Since McAdams cleared the 60% threshold, he became the party’s nominee, with no primary election taking place on June 26.
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