Trump Moves to Fill Key Civil Rights Post

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 01, 2017 2 min read
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The Trump administration has picked the leader of a group that advocates for the civil rights of the Jewish community to hold the top civil rights post under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

If confirmed, Kenneth L. Marcus, the founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, would take over the reins as assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The post is now held in an acting capacity by Candice Jackson, who has drawn criticism for her comments about sexual assault on college campuses and racial issues.

Previously, Marcus served as the staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He was delegated the authority of the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department under President George W. Bush. He also worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Bush.

Marcus’ authority at the Education Department, where he worked from 2002 to 2004, was a point of contention for some civil rights groups. They argued that Marcus was being given the power of an assistant secretary without being confirmed by the Senate. The Bush administration maintained that since he had been delegated the authority of an assistant secretary, he could hold the post indefnitely. (Marcus left the department that year to work at the civil rights commission.)

On its website, the Brandeis Center states that its mission is “to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all.” Marcus has criticized political movements that push governments to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, and in particular those on college campuses. He has said that anti-Israel sentiments in higher education have intimidated those with pro-Israel views.

Charged Atmosphere

DeVos’ approach to civil rights is under intense scrutiny. She and her supporters say that the federal government is taking a fairer approach to civil rights issues that gives states and local school districts more power than under the Obama administration.

Critics charge that her approach to issues such as systemic racial discrimination and transgender rights threatens to do harm to disadvantaged groups of students.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella organization which has frequently criticized DeVos, did not make any direct reference to Marcus’ work at the Brandeis Center or elsewhere in its official reaction to his nomination.

But citing DeVos’ “dismal” record on civil rights, the group said that senators who will consider Marcus’ nomination have “an obligation to thoroughly examine the qualifications of Kenneth L. Marcus and his record, the actions of the office for civil rights since the beginning of this administration, and planned future actions.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2017 edition of Education Week as Trump Moves to Fill Key Civil Rights Post


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