Trump Administration is Intent on Weakening Civil Rights Enforcement

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Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

When new U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked on “60
Minutes” whether she thinks President Donald Trump is a racist, she responded
with the candor that makes her a compelling force in Washington:


“Yeah, yeah, no question.”


This, of course, lit up the social media, with Trump
supporters denouncing Oca­sio-Cortez and progressives praising her. One would
think after his dog-whistle, race-bait politics — from slurring im­migrants to
slandering a His­panic judge to embracing the racist marchers in Charlottes­ville,
Va., to denigrating Haiti and African nations as “s— hole countries” — that the
question had been answered long ago.


What is clear is that, what­ever the president’s personal
views, the Trump administra­tion is intent on weakening enforcement of civil
rights laws across the board. The same week that Ocasio-Cortez spoke, two
widely respected reporters from the Washing­ton Post, Laura Meckler and Devlin
Barrett, reported that the Trump administration is taking the first steps
toward rolling back a centerpiece of civil rights enforcement: the doctrine
that starkly disparate impact can provide evidence of discrimination even with­out
proof of intent.


If a government contrac­tor announces that it won’t hire
anyone who is living with someone of the same sex, the victims may not be able
to pro­vide direct evidence that the employer intended to discrim­inate, but
the disparate impact of the announcement would provide the basis for finding
discrimination. Disparate im­pact isn’t dispositive. Those accused can
demonstrate that they have a rational reason for the regulation or action and
that there are no less discrimi­natory alternatives.


In some areas, like election law, disparate impact is writ­ten
in the legislation itself. In most areas, however, it derives from regulations
on enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, particularly Title VI which bars
discrimination based on race, color or national origin by entities, including
schools that receive federal funding.


In 2014, as Meckler and Devlin report, the Obama ad­ministration
formally put pub­lic school systems on notice that they could be found guilty
of racial discrimination if stu­dents of color were punished at dramatically
higher rates than white students. Trump’s Education Department issued a report
criticizing the regula­tion and has begun discussions about rescinding it.


This assault on a center­piece of civil rights enforce­ment
comes on top of Trump’s stunning reversal of civil rights enforcement across
the government.


Under Jeff Sessions, the Trump Justice Department
essentially abandoned the Obama effort to work with police departments to ad­dress
systemic racially dis­criminatory police practices. Sessions directed the
Justice Department to stop defending affirmative action programs and start
enforcement actions against them.


The administration rolled back protections for transgen­der
students, while banning transgender people from the military. The Justice Depart­ment
chose to defend a dis­criminatory Texas voter ID law, which a district court
later ruled was passed with dis­criminatory intent. In depart­ment after
department, the administration has sought to weaken civil rights divisions and
cut their budgets.


As head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Trump’s
acting chief of staff Mike Mulvaney gutted the unit responsible for enforcing
anti-discriminatory lending laws. This list can go on.


Is Donald Trump person­ally a racist? Whatever your conclusion,
Trump surely campaigned by trying to stoke racial fears and divisions.


And this administration is the most hostile to civil rights
and to equal justice under the law than any since the pas­sage of the Civil
Rights laws. Trump’s defenders insist that the president objects to being
called a racist, that he signed the recent legislation rolling back some of the
discrimina­tory sentencing practices, and that he happily has his picture taken
with African-American children.


But the record of his ad­ministration is clear, and the
disparate impact of the mea­sures it has taken provides compelling evidence of
its intent.

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