Eric Dreiband, a partner at Jones Day [professional profile] and former top attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [official website], appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee [materials] on Wednesday to answer questions as he seeks confirmation as the head of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division. Dreiband was nominated [materials] for the post by President Donald Trump on June 29. Critics of the nomination point to Dreiband’s record defending large corporations in civil rights violation cases, including his representation of Abercrombie and Fitch in a suit brought by a Muslim woman [NPR report] who claimed she was not hired because she wore a headscarf, and representing RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in an age discrimination case [opinion]. During the hearing, Dreiband chose not to directly answer a hypothetical question from Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [official website] of Rhode Island on whether a gay employee should enjoy the same protections as a deaf employee. Dreiband cited ongoing lawsuits related to the issue as the reason he could not answer the question.
If Dreiband is confirmed, he will join a Department of Justice (DOJ) that has faced increased scrutiny related to its position on various civil rights issues. On Tuesday US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [JURST report], or DACA, program, which gives undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers, protection from deportation. Last month the DOJ reversed its position [JURIST report] in a key voting rights case that will be before the Supreme Court later this year by filing an amicus brief in support of an Ohio maintenance tactic used to remove people from the voting rolls. In July the DOJ filed an amicus brief urging the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a man who claims he was fired for his sexual orientation [JURIST report]. Conversely, some civil rights activist praised [NYT report] Attorney General Sessions, the top lawyer within the DOJ, for his response to the violent clash between white supremecists and protesters that left one woman dead in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. Sessions announced [JURIST report] a federal investigation into the violence days after the incident, and condemned the actions as “racial bigotry and hatred.”