Trump Administration to be Investigated for Weakening Civil Rights Enforcement

Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Courtesy of the Department of Justice via Twitter)

In a majority decision made by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, President Donald Trump’s administration will be investigated for proposing cuts that will lead to a “dangerous reduction” of civil rights enforcement.

“Along with changing programmatic priorities, these proposed cuts would result in a dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination,” the Commission said in a statement issued on June 16.

An in-depth, two-year investigation will take place, concluding in 2019.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a bipartisan, independent arm of the government that is tasked with advising the president and Congress on civil rights issues. It was founded in 1957 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

“The Commission has grave concerns about continuing signals from the current Administration,” according to the statement, citing budget cuts and statements from administration officials, “that the protection and fulfillment of civil rights of all persons will not be appropriately prioritized.”

Loyal supporters among those most hurt.

The Commission consists of four members appointed each by the president and Congress. Commissioners serve six-year terms. Currently, there are four Democrats, one Republican and three Independents on the Commission. No more than four members with the same political affiliation may ever sit on the Commission at the same time.

Specifically, the statement cites seven Departments that Commissioners are “particularly concerned” about.

Department of Justice: Under Trump’s budget, the DOJ is slated to lose 121 positions, including 14 attorneys — a telling decision, the Commission notes.

The Commission expresses concern over the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers outside courthouses, calling it “a dangerous impediment to access to justice for all Americans.”

This practice of intimidation has had consequences — in Denver, for instance, witnesses have been too fearful to go to the courthouse to testify, resulting in criminals walking free.

“We have four alleged perpetrators of domestic violence who are back out on the streets without any kind of punishment, and that concerns us greatly as we try to keep Denver a safe and welcoming community,” Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson said in February, ABC 7 Denver reported.

Commissioners also point out that new guidance from the DOJ has left in limbo constitutional protections for LGBT people and people with disabilities.

In a separate decision, the Commission also voted to address in 2018 and 2019 best practices into investigating and reporting information regarding hate crimes at local, state and federal levels.

Department of Education: The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is slated to lose 7 percent of its staff — a cut of 46 positions. A memo recently published by ProPublica also revealed that the OCR will investigate the scope of complaints in a much narrower way.

Under former President Barack Obama’s administration, thorough investigations sought to determine if complaints were part of a larger, systemic pattern or practice of discrimination. One way this was done was by going back three years into complaint data and files. This strategy will no longer be in effect, according to the new memo from Candice Jackson, OCR acting assistant secretary for civil rights.

Research has suggested that racial discrimination in schools — particularly when it comes to discipline — is in fact a documented problem.

Black students are likely to be more strictly disciplined than their white classmates. Now, studies show that this injustice follows these students all the way to college.

According to a 2014 analysis from The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity:

“Research shows that African American students, and especially African American boys, are disciplined more often and receive more out-of-school suspensions and expulsions than White students. Perhaps more alarming is the 2010 finding that over 70% of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or Black (Education Week, 2013). … Over all, Black students were three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers (Lewin, 2012).”

And according to a March 2014 report (released by the OCR), more Black students are severely punished at school than white students — despite the fact that more white students are enrolled in schools

The study reveals that this begins as early as preschool: “Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension.”

The Education Department “is not going to be issuing decrees” on civil rights, according to DeVos.

Earlier this month Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos created even more uncertainty among the LGBT community and its allies when she refused to say LGBT students would be protected from discrimination at private schools.

Department of Labor: The Commission cites not only close to a quarter in staffing cuts to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) but also the proposed merger between the OFCCP and EEOC.

More than 70 civil rights groups signed an open letter to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and John Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), raising their concerns.

The proposal would hinder the government from enforcing civil rights protections.

The letter explains that the two agencies also do not protect the same groups of people. The OFCCP protects on the basis of veteran status, whereas the EEOC does not list protected veterans under its umbrella of people it defends. And while the EEOC names sexual orientation and gender identity under its classes of protected people, court cases involving LGBT people have not always been seamless for the EEOC and remain “the subject of ongoing litigation.”

The merger will “at best compromise the EEOC’s ability to satisfy its already extant civil rights enforcement functions,” the Commission on Civil Rights notes.

Department of Housing and Urban Development: The Department of Housing and Urban Development is also seeing significant cuts, as predicted, with a 13.2 percent decrease in budget. This includes eliminating entirely the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

Choice Neighborhoods, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program Account are all being eliminated.

Such large cuts in money and manpower “would deal devastating blows to the Department’s work to reduce segregation and promote fair housing,” the Commission states.

Department of Health and Human Services: The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for this department would see a 15 percent budget and 10 percent staff cut. Additionally, the budget proposes cuts of over $600 billion to Medicaid over the course of a decade — in addition to, it seems, the over $800 billion cut proposed by the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The budget turns the program into a block grant or per capita program, which will inevitably decrease or even eliminate benefits for some recipients. About 74.6 million Americans receive Medicaid or are recipients of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Trump’s dealings with the EPA have long been called into question, notably when he put Scott Pruitt, who previously sued the EPA a dozen times, in charge of it. And, the Commission notes, the new budget will disproportionately impact underserved communities.

“The proposed budget eliminates the EPA’s Environmental Justice program, including nearly 40 employees,” Commissioners write. “The program provides support to address the disproportionate burden of environmental policies and decisions on communities of color and low income and tribal communities.”

Legal Services Corporation (LSC): LSC is an independent, nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 that provides monetary support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The bipartisan board of directors consists of 11 people that are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s budget will cut $351 million of its funding, according to the Commission.

“Any reduction in the availability of these services, which are already insufficient to meet the needs of low-income Americans, indicates that fewer just and fair outcomes would be secured,” the Commission states.

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