President Trump has nominated attorney Eric Dreiband, a man who has spent his career opposing equality movements, to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The role of the Civil Rights Division is to hold corporations and states accountable for compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws.
In a statement regarding the nomination, Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington Legislative Office, stated that “Dreiband has made a career going against women and LGBT rights. As a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush, Dreiband testified before Congress against legislation that would prevent wage discrimination… With a history of restricting civil rights, Drieband’s record must be thoroughly examined and weighed for his fitness to serve in the position that is supposed to advocate for the rights of all Americans, regardless of their background.”
Dreiband successfully defended the financial media company Bloomberg L.P. in a class action lawsuit where 65 women employees claimed to have been discriminated against because they were pregnant. The pregnant women claimed that the managers of the company reduced their pay, demoted them or excluded them from meetings. The women also accused their managers of making inappropriate, sexual comments towards them.
Dreiband also represented the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington when they did not want to comply with the Affordable Care Act mandate to provide employees with insurance coverage for birth control, arguing that it was a violation of their religious freedom. But in a separate case, Dreiband defended the clothing company Abercrombie and Fitch when they denied a Muslim woman employment because she wore a headscarf.
This year, Dreiband defended the University of North Carolina in a Title IX lawsuit after the University agreed to comply with state law HB2, which required all students and faculty to only use the bathroom that matched the gender on their birth certificate, a direct attack on transgender and non-binary students. Dreiband argued that that HB2 was required to protect the privacy and safety of cisgender people, but a federal judge ruled that the bathroom law was “unenforceable.”
The Trump administration has sought to weaken civil rights offices in a number of agencies. The proposed budget from the White House proposes dramatic budget cuts to the civil rights offices within the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, and outlines a plan to completely disband the Labor Department division that has been tasked with policing discrimination among federal contractors for nearly forty years. Within the Education Department, budget documents acknowledge the strain such cuts would have, stating that “to address steadily increases in the number of complaints received and decreased staffing levels, OCR must make difficult choices, including cutting back on initiating proactive investigations.”
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has already withdrawn a number of Obama era civil rights objections. One was the attempt to protect transgender students’ access to the restroom that corresponded with their gender identity as a condition of the education equity guarantee under Title IX. Next, the DOJ withdrew the Obama era objection to Texas’s draconian voter ID law, claiming they no longer believed the law was passed with discriminatory intent.
In April, Sessions attempted to delay the implementation of a reform agreement that had been previously reached between the Baltimore Police Department and DOJ after an investigation last year found that the Baltimore police systematically violated the civil rights of black residents. Sessions then decided to deliver an ominous statement, warning that the decree in Baltimore will “reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city.”
Before serving as Attorney General, Secretary Sessions served as Alabama’s state’s attorney general and a United States Senator where he was far from a champion on civil rights, making him one of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet nominees. Sessions has a record of opposing measures that aimed to combat violence against women, hate crimes, and voter suppression.
Sources: New York Times 8/11/2011, 8/17/2011; LexisNexis 3/31/2014; NPR 6/1/2015; Jones Day 7/2015; The Washington Post 8/26/2016, 5/8/2017; The Feminist Majority 8/30/2016; ACLU 6/29/2017; Feminist Majority Foundation 6/1/17, 4/10/17