Senators, take a closer look at Trump's Civil Rights Division pick

Senators, take a closer look at Trump's Civil Rights Division pick
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Sixty years ago, a Republican president responding to systemic discrimination tearing at the fabric of the nation responded by signing into law historic legislation dedicating new federal resources to the fight for civil rights.

In signing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, on Sept. 9, President Eisenhower ushered in the first significant reforms since Reconstruction to combat discrimination and protect racial minorities. Six decades later, the response from a Republican president to threats to Americans’ civil rights stands in stark contrast and cannot be ignored.

When white supremacists took to the streets in Charlottesville, Va., with messages of hate and intolerance, President Trump ultimately refused to fully condemn them. Instead, he sought to shift the blame for the deathly violence to anti-protestors and he did nothing to unify a grieving community.

In making his very first presidential pardon, President Trump chose Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff who was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for disregarding a federal judge’s orders to stop targeting individuals based solely on their immigration status. In doing so, President Trump showed a total disregard for the rule of law and set the bar for pardons so low it sends chills thinking about who might be next.

He has continued to push for a discriminatory immigration ban, militarize the police, perpetuate the myth of voter fraud, and is working to undermine the goal of promoting racial diversity in higher education. And just last week, the president charged Attorney General Sessions with announcing the end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected young immigrants from deportation and empowered them to pursue higher education and contribute to our country.

Unlike President Eisenhower, who sought to restore America’s stature abroad as a beacon of hope and equality, President Trump has rolled back the clock on core civil right issues.

It is against this backdrop, and at this moment of reflection 60 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, that the Senate must consider President Trump’s nominee, Eric Dreiband, to lead the Civil Rights Division.

Last week, Dreiband appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing. It was a disappointing display for anyone hoping the nominee would indicate a commitment to restoring the Division’s credibility.

He failed to disavow the sham voter commission established by President Trump which would undermine the voting rights of racial minorities, and civil rights leaders earnestly listening to his testimony did not hear from the nominee a broader vision for a Division that under Trump and Attorney General Sessions has lost its way. The lack of clarity coming out of the confirmation hearing was alarming on its own, and even more so when the next day the Justice Department told the Supreme Court in a legal brief that discrimination against LGBT individuals is constitutional in the name of free speech.

Whether Dreiband has the experience and courage to stand up to the Attorney General, restore the integrity of the Division, and reinstate federal civil rights enforcement are questions that must be front and center as the nomination moves through the Senate. Given his track record and the current state of civil rights, the Senate cannot simply rubberstamp Dreiband’s nomination. Additionally, Congress should open oversight hearings to reverse the politicization that has infected the Civil Rights Division and to ensure that the Division can appropriately carry out its work.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 launched a new era in the fight for civil rights, including additional laws to expand voting rights to President Kennedy establishing the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to serve on the front lines to combat discrimination. These are not the accomplishments of a bygone era, but of one that continues today.

The Civil Rights Division must get back on track with a leader who will be committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans and who will enable the Division to carry out its historic mission as our nation’s chief civil rights enforcement agency.

Kristen Clarke is president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.