Trump stirs controversy with civil rights pick

Getty, Flickr/edlabordems

President Trump has stirred controversy with the attorney he’s tapped to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. 

Eric Dreiband, a former counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush, testified against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2008, and represented the University of North Carolina in its defense of a law banning transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

{mosads}Civil rights groups have met his nomination with overwhelming opposition, arguing that someone with those positions should not lead the Civil Rights Division.

They also argue Dreiband’s past work defending corporations accused of employment discrimination, and his lack of experience on voting rights, police reform and hate crimes, should be disqualifying. 

“Mr. Dreiband is not simply unqualified for the extraordinary responsibility of leading the nation’s civil rights enforcement: he is morally unfit for the job,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement following his nomination.

The nomination is also drawing fire because of its context.

The Trump administration has left civil rights advocates feeling as if they are under attack, from its decision to ban transgender people from military service to the president’s equivocal comments about white supremacists and those protesting them in Charlottesville, Va., last month.

The Congressional Black Caucus offered a letter at Dreiband’s confirmation hearing last week opposing his nomination, arguing he had fought efforts in Congress to strengthen civil rights protections. 

Dreiband appears headed for confirmation despite the opposition. He only needs 51 votes to be confirmed and Republicans hold 52 seats. No Republicans have voiced opposition to his confirmation. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he would “of course” vote for Dreiband and seemed confused that anyone would be opposed to his nomination.

“Have you read his resume and the qualifications he has?” he asked while speaking to The Hill on Tuesday. “Why are they saying he’s not fit for the job?

“If he’s a lawyer and represents his clients, what would you expect — him not to represent his clients?” he continued. 

Dreiband’s allies have offered support for the 53-year-old lawyer, casting him as someone who has represented his clients with confidence, but who treats all people with dignity and respect.

“Eric understands that a lawyer must zealously and competently represent the interests of his client to the full extent of the law, whether that client is the government, an aggrieved individual or group of individuals, or a corporation,” a group of 18 labor and employment lawyers from firms including Littler Mendelson and Paul Hastings LLP wrote in a letter supporting his nomination.  

Dreiband has repeatedly touted his record of enforcing civil rights laws while serving in the Bush administration at both the Equal Economic Opportunity Commission and as deputy administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.  

In his answers to a questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dreiband highlighted a lawsuit brought by the commission against Morgan Stanley in 2004 for alleged sex discrimination.

Dreiband said he and his colleagues were able to negotiate a $54 million settlement with Morgan Stanley that among other things led to it agreeing to appoint an internal ombudsperson and an outside monitor, the implementation of management training in federal anti-discrimination laws and the creation of several programs to address the promotion and retention of women at the company.

He also addressed his testimony against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which overturned a Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted the time period for filing complaints of employment discrimination that concern pay. It states that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation regardless of when the discrimination began.

In 2008, Dreiband claimed the bill would not be in the best interest of the American people” and would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to “investigate events that happened years or decades before anyone files a charge, would force respondents to implement incredibly costly record-keeping or lose the ability to mount a defense, and would create unanticipated and potentially limitless monetary penalties for state and local governments, unions, employers and others covered by the federal antidiscrimination laws.”

In response to a question last week from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dreiband said he is not opposed to equal pay.

“I fully support equal pay for all Americans without respect to their gender or their race, or anything else,” he said.

Dreiband claims he was only recommending Congress pass a law that extends the statute of limitations to bring claims for all forms of discrimination, not just pay discrimination.

Dreiband, now a partner at the law firm Jones Day, was quick to condemn white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan at his confirmation hearing.

“The bigotry and ideology of neo-Nazism, Nazism, white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan are a disgrace to this country and should be eradicated from the United States,” he said.

“And if I am confirmed, anyone who perpetuates crimes or other civil rights violations that come within the jurisdiction of the civil rights division should know and they should be on notice if I’m confirmed, the civil rights division is coming for them.”

Dreiband’s remarks did little to soothe the concerns of civil rights leaders.

“In what universe should a nominee for the civil rights division have to clarify he will take a strong [position against] the Klan?” asked Sharon McGowan, director of strategy for Lambda Legal.

“In many ways it’s indicative of the extent to which civil rights are under assault under this administration … It’s easy for him to say, ‘I oppose the Klan,’ but to suggest it was a bold testament of courageous leadership is indicative of how low this administration has taken us.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a committee vote on his nomination. Dreiband is due to return written questions to the committee on Wednesday. A vote is usually added to the agenda once the written responses are received. 

Tags Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein

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