Civil rights nominee assures he will be aggressive

Sadie Gurman
Associated Press

Washington — The Washington labor lawyer tapped to be the Trump administration’s top civil rights attorney offered assurances Wednesday that he is sensitive to voting rights and hate crimes, in the face of criticism of his record of defending large companies against discrimination claims.

Rights groups have opposed Eric Dreiband’s nomination, citing his private sector work and uncertainty about his stances on key areas such as gay rights, criminal justice and policing. But his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was largely devoid of fireworks, and there are no apparent obstacles to his confirmation to lead the Justice Department’s vaunted civil rights division.

The division has always been a political hotbed and that’s especially been true under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Under Sessions, the department changed positions to support a strict Texas voter ID law that a federal judge last month found discriminates against minorities. The department also has backed off court-enforceable improvement plans for troubled police agencies and told local school districts they no longer must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Dreiband revealed little about his views on those most pressing issues, promising only aggressive enforcement of all civil rights laws. Tackling a rise in hate crimes will be a top priority of his civil rights division, he said, after senators pressed him for his thoughts on the violent demonstrations by white nationalists that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. The Justice Department’s civil rights division has opened a federal hate crimes probe into the violence that left one woman dead and others hurt.

“There is no place in this country for neo-Nazisim, white supremacy, the KKK, the ideology of hatred, bigotry, discrimination, murder and other crimes against people by people acting on those ideologies,” Dreiband said. “I was totally disgusted by the disgrace that we saw in Charlottesville.”