Trump Pick for Top DOJ Civil Rights Post Questioned in Senate

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Hassan A. Kanu

President Donald Trump’s nominee for the top civil rights post at the Justice Department had a collegial hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 6, despite strong opposition from many civil rights advocacy groups and Democratic committee members.

Civil and human rights advocacy groups have criticized the pick of attorney Eric Dreiband in light of his professional history defending employers against discrimination claims, as well some personal writings that match the positions of some of his clients. A coalition of organizations sent senators on the committee a letter prior to the hearing opposing his nomination for assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice.

The division has far-reaching responsibilities, including enforcing anti-discrimination laws, preventing voting rights abuses, and investigating civil rights violations by police departments. Civil rights groups have said the mission is at odds with Dreiband’s professional record.

“I’m going to be specifically interested in your views on what the” civil rights division “will do under your leadership to combat race discrimination,” hate crimes, and other forms of bias, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in introducing the hearing.

Dreiband is an employer-side attorney and partner at Jones Day in Washington and former general counsel to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He also served as outside counsel to the Trump presidential campaign.

Defended Bias Claims

Dreiband unsuccessfully represented Abercrombie and Fitch in a case in which a Muslim teenager alleged the clothing company refused to hire her because her religious head-scarf violated its appearance policies. The nominee led a discrimination case against the company while at the EEOC, but took the opposite position when he went into private practice.

He won a case on behalf of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco which helped to establish precedent that older workers can’t sue under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act for hiring discrimination unless the bias was intentional. Most discrimination statutes allow alleged victims to sue on the basis of an unintentionally discriminatory effect on a particular group.

Dreiband also represented the University of North Carolina when it implemented policies under the state’s since-repealed “bathroom bill,” and successfully defended Bloomberg LP against a class-action pregnancy discrimination case brought by the EEOC. Bloomberg LP is the parent company of Bloomberg BNA.

Questions on Charlottesville

The issue of transgender discrimination arose a couple of times at the hearing, but Dreiband wasn’t questioned specifically on most of the other concerns cited by Democrats or in the advocacy groups’ letter.

Lawmakers questioned Dreiband about his views on the recent racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., and the president’s comments that both white supremacists and counter-demonstrators were to blame for rioting that included the death of one woman.

“Hate crimes are a serious problem in this country, and we saw a terrible display of that in Charlottesville, Va., recently,” Dreiband said. “There is no place in this country for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK, or the ideologies of hatred, discrimination and murder” that those groups espouse, he said.

Dreiband said enforcing laws against hate crimes and discrimination “will be a priority” of his.

‘I’m Not Aware of Voter Fraud Data’

Senators also asked Dreiband about the Voting Rights Act and the White House Election Integrity Commission. The commission was formed to address voter fraud and investigate the president’s claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats characterized the commission as a threat to the voting rights of protected minorities.

Dreiband said he’s “unaware of any data suggesting” there were millions of unlawful votes cast.

“Access to the ballot is critically important,” he said. “I’m not familiar with what the Election Integrity Commission is doing,” but “what I will do is enforce the laws, whether anyone likes it or not,” he said.

The hearing also considered the nominations of four people appointed to judgeships. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund released a statement ahead of the hearing that called the GOP committee leadership’s decision to “lump” Dreiband into the same hearing “especially insulting.”

Further hearings or a vote on the nomination haven’t yet been scheduled.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.