Civil Rights Groups Push Back Against Anti-LGBTQ Justice Department Nominee

Auditi Guha

“Experienced and principled leadership is needed to ensure the civil rights of our most vulnerable populations are protected and enforced."

More than 60 LGBTQ groups are fighting the nomination of Eric S. Dreiband for assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

A letter of opposition sent Wednesday to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee points to Dreiband’s refusal to answer questions about LGBTQ legal protections.

“Experienced and principled leadership is needed to ensure the civil rights of our most vulnerable populations are protected and enforced. Mr. Dreiband’s record of opposing civil rights renders him ill-suited to provide that kind of leadership to the Civil Rights Division,” the letter states.

The Civil Rights Division has “defended and vindicated the civil rights of vulnerable Americans” for 60 years, the letter claims. Yet Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it his mission to attack the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, said Sharon McGowan, director of strategy at Lambda Legal, a national nonprofit fighting for LGBTQ rights. 

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“The latest evidence of his anti-LGBT crusade is his memo [Wednesday] announcing that DOJ will get back in the business of advancing anti-trans arguments in the courts, notwithstanding the overwhelming consensus of courts that federal sex discrimination law prohibits discrimination against transgender people,” she said in an email.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 organizations, denounced Dreiband’s nomination.

“At a time when our country desperately needs every tool to protect civil rights, the Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced Eric Dreiband–a man who has worked to narrow the scope of civil rights laws enforced by the very office he was chosen to lead,” Vanita Gupta, the Leadership Conference’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Sessions this week rescinded the Obama-era policy that protected transgender people in the workplace, adding to the discrimination LGBTQ people already face under the Trump administration.

“Presumably Jeff Sessions has confidence that Eric Dreiband is on board with his anti-LGBT agenda, which is why Lambda Legal and over 60 national, state and local LGBT groups are raising our voices in opposition. The Senate can and should demand a nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division that can actually be trusted to defend—rather than attack—the civil rights of LGBT people and other vulnerable groups,” McGowan said.

Sessions met with an anti-LGBT group behind closed doors in July, as reported by Rewire.

“How can we trust that the nation’s top law enforcement officer will protect all Americans when he’s willing to meet behind closed doors with a group that supports criminalizing homosexuality and marginalizing LGBT people around the world?” SPLC Deputy Legal Director David Dinielli said in a statement at the time.

Dreiband’s track record in undermining civil rights extends beyond the LGBTQ community. He testified in Congress against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and he has tried to restrict Muslim women from wearing headscarves at work and block women’s access to contraception, according to the letter from Lambda Legal.

Dreiband’s addition to the Department of Justice would further undermine civil rights under President Trump, at a time when the president’s 2018 budget is looking to defund civil rights enforcement by slashing attorneys and other positions.

“The nomination of Mr. Dreiband only further reinforces the message implicit in the 2018 budget proposal: the Civil Rights Division is no longer in the business of defending civil rights,” Lambda Legal states in the letter. “The Senate, however, need not roll over and let this happen. This body has an important role to play in deciding what direction the Civil Rights Division, the Department of Justice, and by extension, our country will go.”

The letter’s signatories include the Transgender Law Center, National Women’s Law Center, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, and the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.

In a separate letter and action led by Lambda Legal, 27 organizations urged the Judiciary Committee to reject the nomination of Justice Joan Larsen to the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the nomination of Professor Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, noting that their “views on civil rights issues are fundamentally at odds with the notion that LGBT people are entitled to equality, liberty, justice and dignity under the law.”

Advancing these nominations for lifetime appointments to federal appeals courts “furthers the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine rights that women, people of color, and LGBT Americans have spent generations fighting to vindicate,” Gupta said in her statement.

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