Eric Dreiband, a lawyer who represented a nonprofit that objected to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, was nominated Thursday by the White House to serve as an assistant attorney general.
He will lead the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. NPR first reported in April that Dreiband was being considered.
Dreiband was part of the legal team representing Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington in their case against the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. The nonprofit organization claimed that the benefit violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and sought to be exempted from it.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell, the case Dreiband worked on, is one of seven related to the birth control benefit consolidated for one hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
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The Obama administration created an accommodation for religious nonprofit organizations allowing them to opt out of the birth control benefit after filling out a form and giving it to their insurer or a third-party administrator if they were self insured. This, according to Rewire’s legal analysts Jessica Mason Pieklo and Imani Gandy, allowed the groups to “let their insurer know that they oppose contraception on religious grounds and refuse to provide coverage for it. The insurer (or third-party administrator) would then step in and provide contraceptive coverage.”
The plaintiffs, however, claimed that opting out still put a “substantial burden” on them by supposedly forcing them to facilitate contraceptive coverage.
Though Dreiband initially lost the case when it was consolidated with a similar birth control benefit suit brought by anti-choice group Priests for Life, both of the cases have since been ordered to be reconsidered as part of the consolidated hearing. The Trump administration is still considering how to proceed with the case, though it has otherwise already begun making moves to roll back the benefit.
Dreiband otherwise made a name for himself representing companies “in all aspects of civil rights, employment discrimination, whistleblower, and wage and hour investigations, litigation, and counseling,” according to his staff biography for his most recent position at Jones Day.
Civil rights advocates condemned Dreiband’s nomination and called for close scrutiny of the lawyer’s record.
“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, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “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.”
Gupta said Dreiband had “devoted the vast majority of his career to defending corporations accused of employment discrimination” and “has no known experience in most of the Civil Rights Division’s core issue areas, such as voting rights, police reform, housing, education, and hate crimes.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement that Dreiband has “made a career going against women and LGBT rights.”
Drieband was a part of the legal team representing the University of North Carolina in a lawsuit related to the state’s discriminatory “bathroom bill” known as HB 2.
“With a history of restricting civil rights, Dreiband’s record must be thoroughly examined and weighed for his fitness to serve in the position that is supposed to advocate for the rights of all Americans, regardless of background,” McCurdy said. “We will watch Dreiband closely, and urge senators to ask the tough questions during his confirmation process.”
Dreiband has served general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under President George W. Bush. While there he “represented the commission in a suit against a meat processing plant in Chicago for discriminating against African American and women workers,” according to a May profile from the Washington Post.
While at Jones Day, Dreiband worked on a case representing Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in a case brought against the company by the EEOC alleging that it had refused to offer a religious accommodation to its dress code policy to hire a Muslim woman who sought to wear a headscarf. The Supreme Court ruled against the clothing company in 2015.
He represented Bloomberg, L.P in a class action lawsuit brought by the by the EEOC alleging the company had engaged in pregnancy discrimination and also represented tobacco company R.J. Reynolds in an age discrimination suit.