In a majority decision made by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, President Donald Trump’s administration will be investigated for proposing cuts that will lead to a “dangerous reduction” of civil rights enforcement.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a bipartisan, independent arm of the government that is tasked with advising the president and Congress on civil rights issues. It was founded in 1957 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
An in-depth, two-year investigation will take place, concluding in 2019.
“The Commission has grave concerns about continuing signals from the current Administration,” according to the statement, citing budget cuts and statements from administration officials, “that the protection and fulfillment of civil rights of all persons will not be appropriately prioritized.”
Specifically, the statement cites seven Departments that Commissioners are “particularly concerned” about.
Department of Justice: Under the proposed budget, the DOJ is slated to lose 121 positions, including 14 attorneys — a telling decision, the Commission notes.
Commissioners also point out that new guidance from the DOJ has left in limbo constitutional protections for LGBT people and people with disabilities.
Department of Education: The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is slated to lose 7 percent of its staff — a cut of 46 positions.
Research has suggested that racial discrimination in schools — particularly when it comes to discipline — is in fact a documented problem that follows students all the way to college, thereby impacting the talent pipeline.
According to a 2014 analysis from The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity:
“Research shows that African American students, and especially African American boys, are disciplined more often and receive more out-of-school suspensions and expulsions than White students. Perhaps more alarming is the 2010 finding that over 70% of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or Black (Education Week, 2013). … Over all, Black students were three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers (Lewin, 2012).”
And according to a March 2014 report (released by the OCR), more Black students are severely punished at school than white students — despite the fact that more white students are enrolled in schools
The study reveals that this begins as early as preschool: “Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension.”
According to a report released by the Center for Community Alternatives, students’ disciplinary records have recently become part of the college admissions process for many schools: “About three-quarters (73 percent) of colleges and universities collect high school disciplinary information, and 89 percent of those use the information in admissions decision making.”
Department of Labor: The Commission cites not only close to a quarter in staffing cuts to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) but also the proposed merger between the OFCCP and EEOC.
More than 70 civil rights groups signed an open letter to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and John Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), raising their concerns.
The letter explains that the two agencies also do not protect the same groups of people. The OFCCP protects on the basis of veteran status, whereas the EEOC does not list protected veterans under its umbrella of people it defends. And while the EEOC names sexual orientation and gender identity under its classes of protected people, court cases involving LGBT people have not always been seamless for the EEOC and remain “the subject of ongoing litigation.”
The merger will “at best compromise the EEOC’s ability to satisfy its already extant civil rights enforcement functions,” the Commission on Civil Rights notes.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: The Department of Housing and Urban Development is also seeing significant cuts, as predicted, with a 13.2 percent decrease in budget. Staff will be cut by about 2.7 percent.
Department of Health and Human Services: The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for this department would see a 15 percent budget and 10 percent staff cut.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): In addition to unforeseen budget cuts, the proposal would eliminate 3,800 EPA jobs.
Legal Services Corporation (LSC): LSC is an independent, nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 that provides monetary support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The budget will cut $351 million of its funding, according to the Commission.