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Equity & Diversity

Nominee to Lead Civil Rights Work Under Betsy DeVos Confirmed by Senate

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 07, 2018 2 min read
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The Senate has voted to confirm Kenneth L. Marcus to serve as the assistant secretary for civil rights under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Marcus was tapped by President Donald Trump to serve as the top civil rights official at the Education Department back in October. In fact, Marcus has basically held the job before: He was delegated the duties of the assistant secretary for civil rights under President George W. Bush. He’s the president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which advances civil and human rights for Jewish people.

The Senate vote Thursday to confirm Marcus by a 50-46 vote.

Shortly after Trump’s election in 2016 and before his nomination, Marcus told our colleague Mark Walsh that he was keeping an open mind about how the president would handle civil rights in education, and said that in his experience, different administrations tend to take the same approach to civil rights cases—except for high-profile ones.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last year, Marcus highlighted his record of looking out for disadvantaged students. But he also didn’t truly distance himself from Trump’s previous statements about civil rights and women’s rights. He also said that while racial discrimination against students is an alarming prospect, each civil rights case must be investigated individually and fairly to ensure there is such discrimination taking place.

Civil rights advocates outside the administration had urged senators to reject Marcus. For example, in a February letter to lawmakers, a coalition of groups criticized Marcus, saying that during his tenure the Bush administration moved to protect students from possible religious discrimination but not those potentially suffering from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Marcus has also opposed affirmative action and equal opportunity initiatives, including in an amicus brief filed by the Brandeis Center, an organization for which he is founder and president, with the Supreme Court in the [Fisher v. University of Texas] case in which the Brandeis Center argued that public institutions should not be allowed to use race-conscious admissions programs,” the groups wrote. “Mr. Marcus’ attitudes and beliefs fail to demonstrate a commitment to protecting students of color from discrimination, as is required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Photo: Kenneth L. Marcus delivers welcoming remarks at the Louis D. Brandeis Center’s National Law Student Leadership Conference last year. (Teresa Kroeger/Louis D. Brandeis Center-File)