Attorney Candice E. Jackson of Vancouver, Washington, has been appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights.
The position is one of hundreds of sub-Cabinet-level positions the Trump administration has slowly staffed. Trump should pay attention toward staffing of high-level federal government positions. His actions here can help, or decimate, civil rights in these areas.
Who Trump appoints to positions in his government can set the mold to push the frontiers of civil rights laws and is important to black Americans. Previously Republican administrations used high-government positions to influence and affect federal policy on civil rights, and past political appointees show the impact such positions can have.
Jackson, a 39-year-old white woman, will act as assistant secretary in charge of an office that has responsibility for protecting students from racial, gender, disability and age discrimination. Jackson will not require Senate confirmation in her current role.
Under the Obama administration, the office emphasized to colleges that they could give preferences to minorities and women and achieve diversity. Some of the guidance from the office has provoked controversy among Republicans that have called for the office to be scaled back.
Some civil rights activists and legal scholars say the Trump administration has a adversarial relationship with modern concepts of universal equality and inclusion and a lukewarm commitment to assertively protect civil rights of marginalized groups. What happens with civil rights under the Trump administration depends on Trump. In reality, Trump must seek to appoint and grow blacks in positions such as the assistant secretary for civil rights. The appointee oversees 600 staff in 12 regional offices investigating allegations of discrimination based on sex, race, and other characteristics protected by law. The office adjudicated over 17,000 complaints to the end of 2016.
Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, causes some to wonder whether Jackson, like other “color blind” Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office.
The Office for Civil Rights, one of the largest federal agencies with a staff of 650 attorneys, investigators and staff, is headquartered in D.C. and has twelve regional offices. Over its period of existence the office has represented a solid steppingstone for blacks. The assistant secretary’s mission has been, and should continue to be, to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.
The GOP has a storied history in building the concept and impact of civil rights. Since its creation in 1980, presidents have appointed lawyers with long experience in civil rights litigation or enforcement. Republican presidents have nominated lawyers such as former Assistant Secretaries Clarence Thomas, (1981–1982), Harry M. Singleton (1982–1985) and LeGree S. Daniels (1987–1989).
As of mid-March, the Trump administration has not moved to nominate many blacks to fill key positions, and the appointment of Jackson shows this administration’s lack of concern for blacks’ culture and uplift. Jackson’s writings suggest she’ll likely steer the Education Department in a different direction than her black Republican predecessors.
Due to Trump’s lack of government experience and fluid political positions, much interest should continue over his Cabinet and sub-Cabinet nominations. Trump should make political appointments based on race, culture and diversity needs. Blacks should not just let Trump’s administration abandon civil rights, the culture or concept, under the guise of “color-blindness.”
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.