Civil rights groups on Thursday condemned President Donald Trump’s choice of a Washington lawyer who has defended companies accused of discrimination to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
Eric Dreiband, a former George W. Bush administration official, represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in an age discrimination case and Bloomberg in a pregnany discrimination case as a partner at the law firm Jones Day. On Thursday, Trump tapped him to lead the division that handles voting rights, policing and discrimination cases.
Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a former leader of the civil rights division under President Barack Obama, said Dreiband’s past work showed he was not up for the job.
“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,” Gupta 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.”
Jones Day named Dreiband to an annual list of top lawyers for the last three years, and he served as general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Bush. But the civil rights groups weren’t impressed with his past work.
Jesselyn McCurdy, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement that Dreiband’s history “must be thoroughly examined and weighed for his fitness to serve in the position.” She said the ACLU will urge senators to ask the tough questions during his confirmation process.
“As a private attorney, Dreiband represented organizations seeking religious exemptions to avoid providing contraceptive coverage for women in the workplace,” McCurdy said. “He also argued on behalf of the University of North Carolina in support of a law that discriminates against trans people.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said after Attorney General Jeff Sessions took over this year, the Justice Department has not enforced civil rights as strongly as it had before.
“Our preliminary review of Mr. Dreiband’s record suggests that he brings little to no experience in the critical areas of voting rights, policing reform or criminal justice generally,” Clarke said. “Millions of Americans gripped by the rise in racially-motivated hate crimes, voter suppression and an unfair criminal justice system are watching.”