Donald Trump spent much of his campaign cheering on violent attacks against African-American protestors, defending military torture, arguing that our elections are plagued by widespread voter fraud, praising authoritarian rulers for acts of extrajudicial killing, and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
So, from the moment the Rust Belt turned red on November 8, it was clear that the next four years weren’t going to be a stellar time for civil-rights enforcement in the United States.
But the outlook has grown even more dire in the weeks since. First, and most critically, Trump named Jeff Sessions — a longtime critic of federal civil-rights enforcement, who once prosecuted three African-American get-out-the-vote activists on dubious charges of voter fraud — as his pick to lead the Justice Department.
Then, moments after Trump was sworn in, a “Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community” page was added to the White House’s official website. The page decries the “dangerous anti-police atmosphere” in the United States, and declares, “Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.”
Of course, steadfast enforcement of civil rights law does not require the federal government to supply looters with free pillow-top mattresses, wooly slippers, or ergonomic chairs. But since no one thinks the government’s job is literally to make rioters more comfortable, it seems likely that what the Trump administration really means is, “Our job is not to investigate local police departments that have been accused of systemic civil-rights violations.”
Over the past few years, Justice Department investigations into the police departments of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago all turned up evidence of routine racial discrimination and use of excessive force. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions suggested that such investigations contribute to the “anti-police atmosphere” that the Trump administration has vowed to dispel.
Still, before the inauguration, the top civil-rights-enforcement position in the DOJ — deputy assistant attorney general to the Civil Rights Division — lay open. And so, it was still possible for the terminally optimistic to imagine that Trump would place someone with a modicum of credibility on civil-rights issues in that position.
But late Friday, Above the Law reported that John M. Gore, a partner at the law firm Jones Day, would be assuming that position. (The firm had posted an announcement of the appointment to its website).
Gore does boast some expertise in civil-rights litigation — specifically, he has considerable experience defending the Republican Party against allegations that its voting laws violate civil rights.
He also defended Florida governor Rick Scott’s attempt to purge his state’s voting rolls of non-citizens, shortly before the 2012 election. A federal court later ruled that Scott’s measure had violated the National Voter Registration Act, as it purged many legal voters from the rolls, most of whom happened to belong to left-leaning constituencies.
As Zachary Roth wrote for MSNBC:
The Miami Herald found that “Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted,” while whites and Republicans were the least likely.
In his most recent, high-profile civil-rights case, Gore defended the University of North Carolina in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU challenging the state’s infamous, anti-transgender bathroom bill.
That may look a tad more damning to progressive eyes than it actually is: Unlike the state’s Republican leadership, UNC did not defend the law on its merits. Rather, the university argued that it had made no effort to enforce the discriminatory law, and was thus, not a proper target for a legal challenge to the legislation.
The UNC case is ongoing, and Gore withdrew from it earlier this week.
At first glance, there’s nothing in Gore’s record that’s as outrageous as the darkest chapters of Sessions’s history. Nonetheless, he appears far better prepared to rationalize the GOP’s state-level voting restrictions than to contest them.
And that impression was only reinforced by one of the Justice Department’s first actions under Trump. Per BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner:
[H]ours after Jones Day announced Gore’s new role on Friday, the Justice Department filed a brief in the federal court in Texas that is overseeing the longstanding challenge to that state’s voter ID law. The Obama administration Justice Department had opposed the voter ID provision in court.
On Friday, Justice Department lawyers sought a delay of an upcoming scheduled hearing in the case “because of the federal government’s change in administration, which took place on January 20, 2017.”
The Trump administration comes at you fast.