WASHINGTON ― The corporate lawyer President Donald Trump nominated to lead a key division of the Department of Justice appears headed toward confirmation, despite opposition from civil rights groups that say he’s unfit for the job.
Trump nominated Eric Dreiband, an attorney at Jones Day, to take over as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which was founded 60 years ago this week. Dreiband previously served at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under former President George W. Bush.
Dreiband appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-N.Y.), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) questioned him on issues like voting, LGBTQ rights and hate crimes.
Dreiband, a former football player who tried out for the NFL after he graduated from Princeton, has worked as a labor lawyer and has represented corporations being sued for discrimination. He used his testimony to issue a strong condemnation of neo-Nazis, white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan, which he said should be “eradicated” from the country.
But senators had limited time to question Dreiband amid a busy slate of hearings for several other judicial candidates, meaning they had less opportunity to drill into his record. As a result, there were no indications during Wednesday’s hearing that Dreiband will face much Republican opposition, let alone enough to prevent his confirmation.
A number of groups criticized the Senate Judiciary Committee ― chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) ― for scheduling so many nominees on a single day.
Holding the hearings with so many nominees “deeply undermines the vetting process,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president for the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way.
The Civil Rights Division is often at the center of public controversy, and that’s certainly been true during the early months of the Trump administration. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has backed away from investigating patterns of misconduct at law enforcement agencies; reversed the department’s position on key voting rights cases; said that the law doesn’t protect gay people from discrimination; and rescinded protections for transgender students.
Advocacy groups and other critics cited Dreiband’s professional background as they spoke out against his nomination. Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, said he had “spent his professional life opposing the rights of people facing discrimination on the job.”
The Congressional Black Caucus wrote that choosing Dreiband “follows President Trump’s agenda of tapping the fox to guard the henhouse.”
Dreiband had “no known experience in the Division’s core issue areas, such as voting rights and hate crimes” the group stated in a press release, adding that he “devoted the vast majority of his career to defending corporations accused of employment discrimination.”
Vanita Gupta, who headed up the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, said Dreiband’s record “shows he is the wrong person” to lead the Civil Rights Division.
“The leader of that division must have an allegiance to civil rights, and not to the president or a political party,” Gupta said. “This is particularly true given the Trump-Pence administration’s open hostility to, and demonstrated record of undermining, our core civil rights.”
Dreiband’s nomination should be shot down unless he’d change the Trump Justice Department’s positions, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Unless Eric Dreiband is willing to reverse destructive actions taken by the Attorney General and can commit to restoring civil rights enforcement across the Division, his nomination must be rejected,” Clarke said.