Lhamon appointed Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights

President Biden intends to appoint Catherine Lhamon to resume her post during the Obama administration as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, paving the way for familiar rights policies civic.

If confirmed by the Senate, Lhamon will lead education issues related to race, sexual assault and harassment, and LGBTQ rights – and she should be active and aggressive in her approach.

“I guess not only will they continue a lot of the things they did during Obama’s second term, but they’ll probably be more aggressive because I think that’s where the center of the Democratic Party is now,” said Shep Melnick, professor of political science at Boston College and author of The transformation of Title IX: Regulating gender equality in education (Brooking, 2018).

Lhamon served as assistant secretary for civil rights from 2013 to 2017, when she was part of an administration that stepped up enforcement of Title IX complaints against colleges and carried out costly and time-consuming investigations, Melnick said. During her tenure, the office threatened to withhold federal funding to colleges that violated Title IX – the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded institutions – which Lhamon said was “an effective tool. for us ”and was used as leverage. in negotiations with colleges and universities.

As the department reworks Title IX regulations set by the Trump administration, Lhamon will likely play a key role, Melnick said. But the process will be long – the ministry is due to begin hearings on the matter in June, which is only the first step.

In the short term, Lhamon might consider reverting to policies from his previous term, such as the 2016 Dear Colleague letter on transgender students and Title IX policies, which offered informal guidance clarifying that a student’s transgender status is protected from discrimination by Title IX and outlining how college policies regarding gender identity are to be compliant, for example identifying students with their correct names and pronouns and allowing transgender students to stay in compliant accommodation to their gender identity. But her use of informal advice has been criticized in the past and she will likely be questioned about it during her Senate confirmation hearing, Melnick said.

“She didn’t get a very consistent answer to the question about the binding nature of informal advice,” Melnick said. “On the one hand, she was like, ‘We expect people to obey and we’re going to enforce it,’ but then she would go back and say, ‘Well, it’s not a binding law.’ It’s a big [thing] that I think Republicans, and maybe some Democrats, will push. “

Republicans could also voice concerns during its confirmation process about the Office of Civil Rights’ overbreadth, which former Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, raised as an issue in 2014 after the Obama administration released a question-and-answer document clarifying the historic title. Guideline IX published in 2011.

For advocacy organizations that want a return to Obama-era civil rights policies, Lhamon’s appointment is cause for hope, said Sage Carson, director of Know Your IX, a group that advocates for civil rights. end of sexual and dating violence in educational settings.

“His extensive experience in civil rights and the focus on youth rights is really exciting for us after four years in a ministry of education that really focused on the priority of schools and the accountability of children. schools versus the civil rights of students, ”Carson said. “We hope that his return to the department will also lead to a return to focus on protecting students from discrimination and harassment.”

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called Lhamon an “exemplary” candidate and urged the Senate to confirm his appointment.

“Her record of supporting civil rights law and marginalized communities throughout her career, combined with her familiarity with the Civil Rights Office, makes her eminently qualified to protect students from discrimination,” said Henderson in a press release.

But not all organizations are interested in the return to old policies signaled by Lhamon’s appointment. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, called on the Senate to oppose its confirmation unless Lhamon commits to upholding procedural protections for Title IX matters, including rights to a live hearing to challenge charges, meaningful cross-examination and access to all evidence an institution has.

“Under Lhamon’s leadership, the Civil Rights Office enforced guidelines that stripped due process guarantees and violated the First Amendment,” Joe Cohn, FIRE’s legislative and policy director, wrote in a statement. “Lhamon used these guidelines to pressure institutions to restrict constitutionally protected speech and ignore basic procedural protections during disciplinary hearings on campus.”

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