By Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel
Sixty years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the Civil Rights Division within the U.S. Department of Justice. Tasked with promoting fair and equal justice for all Americans, the Civil Rights Division became one of the most important offices in our country to fight systemic discrimination and hold powerful institutions accountable.
But President Trump’s nominee to lead the Division, Eric Dreiband, embodies the extreme anti-civil rights agenda that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have pushed at every opportunity. Rather than stand up for equal justice and defend the rule of law, Mr. Dreiband, who is scheduled to receive a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 5, would undoubtedly serve as a rubber stamp for the administration’s agenda. He has already attempted to restrict the rights and remedies available to discrimination victims. He has already testified against major civil rights legislation that would restore remedies to victims of sex discrimination and age discrimination that were stripped away by a conservative Supreme Court. He has already opposed efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to prevent employers from unfairly discriminating against those with criminal records. His record shows that he is unfit for the position for which he has been nominated.
While some previous administrations tried to politicize the Civil Rights Division, under President Obama it returned to its mission of protecting all Americans — from fighting for fair housing and protecting voting rights, to promoting constitutional policing and combating hate crimes. In these deeply disturbing times, it is important to have people at the highest levels of government recognize the need to protect all people in America.
Mr. Dreiband’s record shows he would take the division in the opposite direction, furthering an agenda designed to thwart civil rights progress, not advance it. He helped represent the state of North Carolina when it was sued by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division over H.B. 2, a bill that required transgender North Carolinians to use the public restroom that corresponds with their gender assigned at birth. He was part of the legal team that represented Abercrombie & Fitch Co. when it was sued for failing to offer a religious accommodation to a Muslim job applicant whose headscarf violated the company’s dress and grooming policy — a position the Supreme Court rejected 8–1. He was the lead attorney in defending Bloomberg L.P. in a class action lawsuit that alleged the company engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminating against pregnant women. Mr. Dreiband clearly lacks the strong civil rights commitment and experiences needed to ensure that the rights of all Americans are protected.
At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Dreiband tried to mislead the Senate Judiciary Committee by testifying that he hadn’t opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2008. He had. In his answers to written questions from committee members, which were submitted last week, he refused to pledge that he would not work with President Trump’s voter suppression commission, and he would not disclose whether he had communicated with members of that commission. He also refused to say if he agreed with President Trump’s comment that there was “blame on both sides” for the hate violence in Charlottesville. And he declined to answer a question about whether he would be willing to meet with transgender Americans and their families.
Beyond that, Mr. Dreiband has virtually no experience working on key issues facing the Civil Rights Division, such as voting rights, police reform, housing, education, and hate crimes.
This administration — and the Sessions’ Justice Department in particular — has already begun dismantling key civil rights protections and undoing progress that generations have fought to secure. In February, the Civil Rights Division withdrew its long-held claim that Texas’ strict voter ID law was passed with discriminatory intent, choosing instead to argue in support of the state law that suppresses the voting rights of Black and Brown Texans. In March, Sessions ordered a review of consent decrees to undermine key protections for individuals interacting with troubled law enforcement agencies. In August, speculation emerged that the Civil Rights Division would sue universities for using affirmative action admissions policies. And last month, the Department unnecessarily filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in which it argued businesses can discriminate against LGBTQ customers.
As this Administration continues its assault on our civil and human rights, it is even more essential that the Civil Rights Division is led by an individual with an unwavering commitment to equal justice, and a record to match. An individual who will stand up for the rule of law, even when it is expedient not to do so. An individual who will help bring Americans together, not divide us further. Unfortunately, Eric Dreiband is the wrong person to defend our civil rights, and the Senate must reject his nomination.