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Washington Labor Lawyer Eric Dreiband Could Run DOJ Civil Rights Unit

Apr 10, 2017
Originally published on April 10, 2017 5:29 pm

Updated at 4:23 p.m. ET

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recommending the White House nominate Washington labor lawyer Eric Dreiband to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division, according to two NPR sources briefed on the hiring process.

Dreiband represents companies at the law firm Jones Day, where his law partners included Donald McGahn, now the White House counsel. Dreiband served as the top lawyer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush and previously worked in the office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, where, according to his law firm biography, he led the investigation and successful prosecution of Clinton associate Webster Hubbell.

In private practice, Dreiband has defended R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., in an age discrimination case; Bloomberg, against pregnancy discrimination claims; and CVS Pharmacy.

Civil rights advocates have been closely watching changes within the Justice Department, which under President Trump has already reversed course on oversight of local police departments, guidance for schools governing bathroom and locker room use for transgender students and voting rights cases initiated during the Obama administration.

Conservative veterans of the division, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, recently wrote to Sessions to blast the Obama administration's record on civil rights and concluded "it's time to make changes," such as rooting out "ideological rot" among "career bureaucrats."

The civil rights division at the Justice Department frequently generates controversy no matter which political party holds the White House. During the Obama years, the Senate rejected nominee Debo Adegbile, after lawmakers derided a legal brief he had filed on behalf of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal. The Obama team never formally submitted a nomination for ACLU lawyer Vanita Gupta, who went on to lead the civil rights unit through investigations of police in Ferguson, Mo.; Baltimore and Chicago.

The Trump team has considered a number of lawyers for the civil rights post, including Harmeet Dhillon, a California Republican who spoke at the GOP convention; Ondray Harris, who once led the division's Community Relations Service, which engages in conflict resolution and mediation in hot spots across the country; and Robert Driscoll, a law partner at McGlinchey Stafford who served as deputy assistant attorney general and chief of staff in the George W. Bush administration.

At the White House, a spokeswoman said, "We do not have any personnel announcements to make at this time, but will let you know when we do."

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