Email #206: “unwavering commitment”?

White House spokesperson Kelly Love said last month: “The Trump administration has an unwavering commitment to the civil rights of all Americans.” But the administration’s civil rights budgets waver significantly.

The Labor Department intends to eliminate its agency that polices discrimination by federal contractors. It’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs caught both Palantir Technologies and Gordon Food Service violating the law by discriminating against Asians and women. As a result, the companies settled lawsuits for nearly $2 million each. This was possible only because the agency conducted detailed audits, a policy that the Trump administration would eliminate by transferring the agency’s enforcement duties to another department while reducing overall funding. And yet the budget says this will “strengthen civil rights enforcement.”

The Education Department intends to reduce its Office of Civil Rights, even though the need for policing is increasing. The budget proposal acknowledges this: “To address steady increases in the number of complaints received and decreased staffing levels, OCR must make difficult choices. OCR’s enforcement staff will be limited in conducting onsite investigations and monitoring, and OCR’s ability to achieve greater coordination and communication regarding core activities will be greatly diminished.”

Since the House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in administrative bodies, I assume these changes concern you. As you have said, we are a nation of laws, and many of these laws are civil rights laws. While budgetary efficiency is laudable, it does not justify allowing unlawful discrimination to continue and grow.

More concerning, the Justice Department is wavering in its commitment to civil rights too.  Attorney General Sessions advocated that litigation against a Texas voter ID law be dismissed, but a U.S. District Judge instead struck it down for intentionally discriminating against minorities. Why is the Justice Department supporting discrimination?

When I visited your DC office and spoke with your chief of staff, he said that the Trump administration’s changes were about getting back to the status quo and enforcing laws that the Obama administration ignored. He was referring to immigration laws. But do you feel the executive branch should be allowed to ignore and in some cases promote the violation of civil rights laws?

This has nothing to do with divisions between Democrats and Republicans, or progressives and conservatives. Civil rights are a bedrock value that all Americans support. Please fulfill your duty as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and see that the executive branch, the Justice Department especially, is fulfilling its duties to all of America.

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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