Jones Day partner Eric Dreiband appeared to diverge from the White House in several key moments during the Senate’s hearing on his nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Dreiband, nominated in June, faces resistance from civil rights groups who argue his record representing major companies facing discrimination lawsuits and his inexperience with voting rights makes him ill-qualified for the position. In his hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dreiband faced few questions about his past clients. Senators instead focused on Dreiband’s personal views, asking about topics that included sexual orientation discrimination and voting rights.
Here are some key moments from the hearing:
Vowing Support for Charlottesville Investigation
Fresh in lawmakers’ minds was the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman protesting white supremacy was killed and others injured after a car was driven into protestors. Asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to reflect on the events, Dreiband said he fully supported the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation, which is being conducted in conjunction with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The bigotry and ideology of neo-Nazism, Nazism, white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan are a disgrace to this country and should be eradicated from the United States,” Dreiband said. “And if I am confirmed, anyone who perpetrates crimes or other civil rights violations … should know and they should be on notice that, if I am confirmed, the Civil Rights Division is coming for them.”
No Data on ‘Widespread Voter Fraud’
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, pressed Dreiband on his views about voting rights and voter fraud. Asked about recent DOJ reversals in positions with respect to the Voting Rights Act, Dreiband said he would review such decisions and that the VRA is “one of the most important laws” within the Civil Rights’ Division’s jurisdiction.
Coons then asked Dreiband whether he thought voter fraud was a “widespread significant problem.” Voter fraud has been a much-discussed issue lately, following President Donald Trump’s claims in January that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 elections and his creation of a commission to combat it. That commission has faced a barrage of lawsuits over transparency and privacy issues.
Though Dreiband didn’t say whether he thought voter fraud is a significant problem, he said he didn’t know of any evidence to support Trump’s claim.
“I am unaware of the data about voter fraud in the United States,” Dreiband said. “I am not aware of any data about … whether or not there were millions of votes cast, fraudulent votes cast, in the 2016 elections. I’m just not aware of that data.”
Later, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, asked Dreiband if he would be willing to push back on any potential recommendations by the voter commission on enforcement, should those recommendations hinder access to the ballot by certain groups.
“What I will do is enforce the laws within the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Division, whether anybody likes it or not,” Dreiband replied.
Weighs In, Ever So Slightly, on Sexual Orientation Discrimination
The Justice Department recently filed a brief in a key discrimination case pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in which it disagreed with another federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While the DOJ argued the Civil Rights Act does not protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, the EEOC, where Dreiband once served as general counsel, argued it does.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Whitehouse pushed Dreiband on the issue. Dreiband said it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment given the pending litigation, and said he would wait to see how the appeals court ruled before deciding how to enforce the law.
Whitehouse then asked what Dreiband thought about the situation generally, and whether people should be fired for being gay.
“I think everyone should be treated with respect, and treated without regard to any trait unrelated to their work,” Dreiband replied.