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Labor lawyer tapped to be Justice Dept. civil rights chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Thursday tapped a Washington labor lawyer known for representing large companies in discrimination lawsuits to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Eric Dreiband’s nomination immediately drew criticism from activists about his commitment to their priorities. The groups have been closely watching how Attorney General Jeff Sessions reshapes the division, which traditionally is subject to the most radical shift in agendas with each change in presidential administration.

Dreiband is part of a steady stream of Jones Day partners flowing into the Trump administration that includes White House counsel Don McGahn. Dreiband did not return a call seeking comment Thursday evening.

Dreiband was part of a team that represented the University of North Carolina in a Justice Department lawsuit over a state law restricting transgender people’s access to public bathrooms.

He defended tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds against age discrimination claims and financial news organization Bloomberg in a pregnancy discrimination case. He represented clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch in a case before the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who was not hired after showing up wearing a religious headscarf.

Dreiband served in the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, whose investigation led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and he was the top lawyer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush.

The Civil Rights Division handles voting rights, hate crimes, religious discrimination and complaints of rights violations by police, among other duties. Sessions is already shifting away from the Obama administration’s priorities for the division, which included aggressive intervention in local law enforcement and transgender rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Dreiband has a “history of restricting civil rights.”

Vanita Gupta, a former ACLU attorney who was head of the Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, said Dreiband “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.”

But Richard Seymour, a fellow attorney who has known Dreiband for years, said Dreiband will keep an open mind.

“He will bring to the table a very deep understanding of what civil rights is,” he said.

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