Trump Nominee for Top Justice Department Civil Rights Post Still Unfit for the Job

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January 17, 2018

Lambda Legal is urging Republican members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to reconsider their support for Eric S. Dreiband, nominated to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Lambda Legal is also calling for new hearings for Mr. Dreiband following the announcement that two new Senators would be added to the committee – Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris – who deserve a chance to question this nominee about his record and recent actions taken by the administration since his hearing last September.

Although limited in their ability to question Mr. Dreiband during last September’s confirmation hearing, many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee challenged Mr. Dreiband’s commitment to safeguarding our nation’s civil rights, particularly in light of his record as a defender of North Carolina’s notorious anti-LGBT (HB2) law and his opposition to legislation that would have made it easier for women to sue for hidden pay discrimination. Mr. Dreiband was nevertheless approved by the Judiciary Committee along a party line vote of 11 to 9. Having failed to receive a floor vote before the end of the year, Mr. Dreiband must receive another vote before his nomination can advance to the full Senate floor.

“The Sessions-led Justice Department’s has been on a year-long anti-civil rights campaign,” said Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy at Lambda Legal. “Under this administration, the Department of Justice has worked relentlessly to roll back protections for LGBT people and other vulnerable communities in employment, education, voting rights and in the oversight of police brutality. From rolling back protections for transgender students and LGBT workers, to issuing so-called “religious liberty” memos intended to grant a license to discriminate against LGBT people, to withdrawing from lawsuits protecting voting rights, to pulling out of consent decrees regarding DOJ oversight of police brutality, the DOJ has worked nonstop to gut our nation’s civil rights.

“At this critical moment, as we decide how we shall respond as a country to the racist tirades emanating from the White House, the Senate is presented with a choice.  Will the Senate ensure that the Civil Rights Division has a leader who will safeguard civil rights -- even in the face of pressure from a President who thinks that DOJ should use its authority to investigate political opponents?  Or will it decide to rubber stamp the nomination of a man who Jeff Sessions trusts to help him advance this administration’s racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and anti-woman agenda?  During his first hearing to lead the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Mr. Dreiband failed to disavow any of Trump’s most discriminatory policies and could not demonstrate his ability to pursue justice for those most under attack.  He is simply not the man for the job.   

Last Fall, Lambda Legal lead a group of 63 national, state, and local LGBT organizations from across the country in a letter underscoring Dreiband’s lack of experience and history of opposing civil rights. Also noting that “his personal involvement in cases seeking to diminish the rights of LGBT people and other vulnerable communities strongly suggests that he will continue to promote the anti-civil rights agenda of this administration, rather than exercise the kind of strong leadership and willingness to defend civil rights that is needed from the head of the Civil Rights Division perhaps now more than ever.”

The letter discussed Mr. Dreiband’s decision to represent the University of North Carolina when it was sued by civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice after North Carolina passed a law (HB2) restricting transgender people’s ability to access public restrooms. The letter also emphasized that the nomination of an attorney who volunteered to join a litigation team seeking to frustrate the Civil Rights Division’s efforts to block a North Carolina law restricting transgender people’s access to public restrooms (HB2) is insulting not only to the LGBT community but is also deeply insulting to the staff of the Division he hopes to lead who valiantly litigated that case on behalf of transgender people.

Lambda Legal has also amplified Dreiband’s troubling track record of anti-civil rights work that extends beyond the LGBT community that includes representing clients seeking to restrict Muslim women from wearing headscarves at work, blocking women’s access to contraception under the Affordable Care Act, and providing testimony before Congress as a private citizen to oppose the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and other important worker protections. Lambda Legal has submitted an updated letter reflecting their continued concerns with Dreiband’s nomination and new concerns in light of the DOJ’s renewed assault on civil rights.