Commission on Civil Rights to probe Trump administration enforcement

Aaron Bernstein  Reuters
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy De Vos testifies in Washington D.C

In a statement, the commission expressed concerns that the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to civil rights offices across the federal governments "would result in a unsafe 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 expressed concern about staff reductions in the civil rights offices at the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as about changes at other agencies.

Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said after DeVos rescinded the 2016 guidance on transgender discrimination complaints in February, some cases filed by or on behalf of transgender students have been limbo. "Everything they are doing is making it clear that they want to defang and weaken the federal government's tools to protect the civil rights and safety of people across the country". But critics of the Trump administration considered the narrowing of some investigations as another example of an effort to narrow civil rights enforcement. The move follows the office's announcement that it will scale back "systemic" civil rights investigations.

Your afternoon shot of politics, sent straight from the desk of Joshua Miller. "In OCR, processing times have skyrocketed in recent years, and the case backlog has exploded". She says the goal now is to speed up the process to give "every complaint the individualized and thorough consideration it deserves". The memo was first published by ProPublica. "Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice for many complainants has been denied for too long", she said.

It was reported Friday that the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Candice Jackson, issued a memo on June 6 calling on the department's lawyers and investigators to consider complaints of discrimination by transgender students on a case-by-case basis.

"For 60 years, Congress has charged the Commission to monitor Federal civil rights enforcement and recommend necessary change", says commission chairwoman Catherine E. Lhamon, an Obama appointee.

But advocates said the significance of the document was unclear and they feared that it could create even more confusion for civil rights enforcement.

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"They are hinting that they are not enforcing the law", said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Both sides of the civil rights issue keyed on the department's decision to reverse its practice of automatically broadening investigations and scrutinizing years of data, searching for patterns of violations. The Department of Justice is similarly cutting back on its enforcement of civil rights.

"It's literally a stick your head in the sand approach", Lhamon concluded. Such systematic reviews included highly essential findings such as investigating whether minority students were punished more harshly than white students.

Since her appointment as the education secretary, DeVos has come under fire from lawmakers and civil rights advocates for her remarks about the department's role in enforcing civil rights laws in the public school system. "So if a student is kept from using the right bathroom, it is illegal Title IX sex discrimination".

Molly Hensley-Clancy, business reporter for Buzzfeed News, where she covers the intersection of business and education.

"It's really a way of curtailing the way civil rights enforcement should be handled". The drive to reduce caseloads and close cases quickly, she said, leads to an "assembly-line justice that does not open its eyes to the kinds of harms that OCR staff know exists in schools".

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