Trump’s pick to lead DOJ civil rights will do the exact opposite of protecting people’s equality

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats / Flickr eric drieband...
House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats / Flickr

Okay, we get it already. Donald Trump loves trolling the American people with his utterly incomprehensible appointments to his cabinet. And while some of the picks may seem vaguely amusing because they are so bizarre and laughable (Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, as the head of Housing and Urban Development for instance), none of them is actually funny. This is because these appointments are poised to do serious damage to the institutions they are in charge of, and the Department of Justice is no exception. Which is why it is so very worrying that Trump has tapped Eric S. Dreiband to lead the civil rights unit of the Justice Department. If confirmed by the Senate, he will be in charge of overseeing cases involving voting rights, policing and discrimination.

“Whoever leads the ‘crown jewel’ of the Justice Department must have deep relationships with stakeholders and marginalized communities, and have a deep, abiding faith in our nation’s civil rights laws,” [Vanita Gupta, former leader of the civil rights division under the Obama administration said]. “They must respect the laws that touch everyone, rights that people have literally died for. They must respect the role of what has been called the conscience of the federal government. In all those regards, Eric Dreiband is woefully unqualified to lead the Civil Rights Division.”

Dreiband has quite a record of representing organizations—mainly those that actively fought for their right to discriminate against certain groups. It also appears that he also has little to no experience in advocating for civil rights laws.

“As a private attorney, Dreiband represented organizations seeking religious exemptions to avoid providing contraceptive coverage for women in the workplace,” [Jesselyn McCurdy, a director in the American Civil Liberties Union Washington office said]. “He also argued on behalf of the University of North Carolina in support of a law that discriminates against trans people.” 

But if his record as stated above weren’t cringeworthy enough, Dreiband’s highest profile case to date has been his representation of Abercrombie & Fitch in a discrimination case in which they refused to hire a 17-year-old Muslim woman because of her head scarf.

Abercrombie insisted that it didn’t have a reason to know the headscarf was meant for religious purposes. The court didn’t buy it, ruling 8-1 in favor of the Muslim woman.

He also has defended the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds in an age discrimination case, Bloomberg in a pregnancy discrimination case, and the Washington Post in an age and race discrimination case.

He sounds like a pretty terrible guy, or at very least, the kind who is perfectly okay with aligning himself on the side of bigotry and big business just to make a point or get a paycheck. Either way, this is not exactly the kind of person we want heading up our nation’s department that enforces civil rights laws and protects the rights of minorities. By his record, we can count on him to do the exact opposite. But this seems to be the strategy of the Trump team—bring leaders into agencies that have a long career history of championing the anthesis of everything those agencies stand for. Let’s count how many agencies they’ve done this with so far: Department of Energy (does Rick Perry know anything about anything?), Department of Education (Bitter Betsy DeVos who hates poor kids), Department of Housing and Urban Development (Ben Carson—no commentary necessary), Environmental Protection Agency (Scott Pruitt—who is now launching an initiative to critique climate change) … the list goes on. This appointment will severely cripple the DOJ’s ability to do anything substantive regarding civil rights and with Jeff Sessions in charge, we know that the agency is looking to lock up and harm more people of color than ever before. 

This is a nightmare. And we have little to no recourse to stop it. But hey, we have to give Trump credit for one (not at all positive) thing—he is indeed a masterful troller, on Twitter and in real life. It’s just really too bad that he sees our lives and futures as one big game to be played. 

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