- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2017

The White House nominated Washington labor lawyer Eric Dreiband as an assistant attorney general to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — a choice eliciting anger from liberal advocacy groups.

Organizations like the ACLU and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is headed by Mr. Dreiband’s predecessor, questioned the lawyer’s experience, saying he has spent much of his career fighting for companies accused of discrimination rather than on behalf of those discriminated against.

Mr. Dreiband, a partner at Jones Day law firm, has specialized in representing businesses in litigation over employment discrimination, whistleblower claims, and wage and hour investigations. Before that, he served from 2003 to 2005 as the general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal law to prevent employer discrimination against workers.

Vanita Gupta, who previously led the civil rights division under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, said Mr. Dreiband is the wrong person for the job and called him “woefully unqualified” for the position.

“Although Mr. Dreiband worked briefly many years ago as a Bush administration official supervising affirmative litigation, he has spent 17 years defending employers charged with discrimination,” said Ms. Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “But he isn’t your garden variety employment defense lawyer. He has made a name for himself as one of corporate America’s go-to lawyers in an effort to restrict the rights and remedies for discrimination victims.”

The White House submitted the nomination Thursday.

In private practice, Mr. Dreiband was recently part of the legal team that represented the University of North Carolina against a Justice Department lawsuit alleging the state’s “bathroom law” restricting transgender people’s access to public restrooms was discriminatory. The lawsuit was dropped by Trump administration after state lawmakers brokered a compromise to repeal portions of the law.

Mr. Dreiband was on the legal team at Jones Day that represented Catholic plaintiffs who objected to the Affordable Care Act’s required contraceptive coverage. The Supreme Court opted not to hear the case brought by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington. He also unsuccessfully represented clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch at the Supreme Court against EEOC in a case brought by a Muslim woman who was not hired by the company after she wore a religious headscarf to a job interview.

As the EEOC’s general counsel, Mr. Dreiband helped resolve a different lawsuit against Abercrombie that alleged the company maintained recruiting and hiring practices that excluded minorities and women. The company paid a $50 million settlement.

Prior to his time at the EEOC, Mr. Dreiband worked for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, whose investigation led to impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He also served as deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Formed in 1957, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division handles discrimination cases, voting rights, hate crimes, as well investigations into abuses by police departments - a responsibility that received heightened attention under the Obama administration.

In recent years, the division has been a source of controversy under both Democratic and Republican administrations, often being accused of acting on a partisan agenda by members of the opposing party.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group, praised Mr. Dreiband’s nomination.

“He is the right person to renew the Division’s commitment to the Rule of Law – protecting the rights of all Americans,” said PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams.”The Division will hopefully return to enforcing all voting laws. For too long, partisan interests drove civil rights enforcement.”

The ACLU issued a statement critical of Mr. Dreiband’s work, saying he “made a career going against women and LGBT rights.”

Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, took issue with Mr. Dreiband’s work representing organizations that sought religious exemptions for contraceptive coverage as well as his representation of the University of North Carolina in the bathroom law case.

“With a history of restricting civil rights, Drieband’s record must be thoroughly examined and weighed for his fitness to serve in the position that is supposed to advocate for the rights of all Americans, regardless of their background,” she said.

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