President-elect Joe Biden is seeking to change the direction of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice department from the course the Trump administration has set, which veered sharply away from the ideals of Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House.
Biden said during his campaign that racial equality would be a significant focus of his presidential policy. Creating equity for communities of color, combating discrimination, improvement in policing, and closing opportunity gaps were all part of the “Build Back Better” plan. The strategy is intended to draw focus on many issues that were not regarded by Trump officials.
“This will be an even bigger pivot because of what the Trump administration represents,” Vanita Gupta, who was in charge of the Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration, told Bloomberg News. “It’s been a kind of systematic erosion of civil rights enforcement that is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent times or recent administrations.”
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The Trump administration has seemingly done the opposite of what the agency was intended: enforcement of laws against discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic background, religion, disability, or nationality. During Trump’s tenure, the department has sued to protect white students' rights, turned away from the protection of voting rights, and even made an effort to include questions of citizenship on the census.
The shift Biden is expected to make what will likely be a major turnaround said those with knowledge of the division. “Anything having to do with race, immigration, voting -- I think you’re going to see a really dramatic shift in the people appointed,” said Linda Chavez, a conservative author who was White House Director of Public Liaison during the Ronald Reagan administration.
During his campaign, Biden pledged to give the Civil Rights Division an office in the White House to better connect it with administration policymakers.
“I’d make sure there’s a combination of the Civil Rights Division having more direct authority inside the Justice Department and be able to investigate than in fact it has now,” Biden said in September.
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Gupta cited Trump’s behavior over his tenure as a defense of white supremacy. Some examples include the deadly 2017 Charlottesville incident, in which a white supremacist killed a young woman and the president said there were “very fine people on both sides,” his travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations, and his infamous “sh*thole” countries comment about poor countries.
Tom Perez, who headed the Civil Rights Division from 2009 to 2013 and is now head of the Democratic National Committee, said Biden has to rebuild civil rights enforcement to create better confidence in the Justice Department.
“The Civil Rights Division under the Trump administration has been an unmitigated disaster,” Perez told Bloomberg.