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Civil rights groups criticize Trump Justice pick ahead of hearing

By Jessica Schneider and Deena Zaru, CNN | 9/6/2017, 8:33 a.m.
The questioning could be intense for President Donald Trump's pick to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, as Eric ...
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The argument seemed to be directly contradictory to what Dreiband had stated as general counsel for the EEOC in the previous Abercrombie lawsuit.

Dreiband's stark change in stance as a private attorney is unsettling to at least one senator on the judiciary committee who hasn't decided if she'll be voting for or against his confirmation.

Unconvinced

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, met with Dreiband on Tuesday afternoon, during which time she says he worked to convince her that his two years as general counsel of the EEOC represent examples of his commitment to civil rights.

But Hirono remains unconvinced.

"The purpose of the civil rights division is to enforce anti-discrimination laws, and considering he spent most of his professional life defending the people accused of discriminatory acts, I'm concerned," she said. "Especially considering where this administration is when it comes to minority rights, this nomination does not look good."

Several other senators on the judiciary committee said they wouldn't comment on the nomination until the hearing Wednesday.

Former acting-Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under the George W. Bush administration, William Yeomans, is urging the judiciary committee to ask tough questions of Dreiband.

"I think it's legitimate to look at what he's done since he left the EEOC," Yeomans said. "He did pro-civil rights litigation when he was at EEOC. But when he was freed of institutional obligations, he became an opponent of victims of civil rights and acted on behalf of corporations. I do think there's cause for serious concern."

Dreiband support

There are many in the legal community who stress Dreiband was simply doing his job.

Richard Seymour is a civil rights and employment law attorney who worked with Dreiband at the EEOC and is jumping to his defense in the face of this widespread criticism.

"The thing I value most in people is integrity and judgment," Seymour said. "And Eric has those qualities immensely."

Seymour has written a lengthy letter to the senate judiciary committee rebutting the arguments of civil rights groups challenging Dreiband's nomination. In it, he points out that Dreiband was not the counsel of record in the 2015 Abercrombie case, and did not argue the case. Instead, Dreiband was one of seven attorneys representing the company.

"The rule of law requires that anyone must be free to seek the lawyer of their choice, and any lawyer must be free to represent them ... without the lawyer being confused with the client or accused of opposing the laws in question merely by properly defending the client," Seymour said, adding: "The ideological purity being insisted upon here is absolutely bizarre."

The White House issued a similar statement.

"The White House judges nominees on the merits of their character and not on the clients they once represented as counsel," White House spokeswoman Kelly Love told CNN. "Mr. Dreiband is highly qualified to run the civil rights division, and we are privileged to have his service."

Washington attorney Leslie Silverman, who also worked closely with Dreiband at the EEOC, touted his commitment to his country and to civil rights.

"Eric was incredibly respected and well-regarded at the agency by the career employees and pretty much everybody that dealt with him, Silverman said. "He's a lawyer's lawyer. He's a hard worker. He has incredible integrity."

The Senate panel will hear from Dreiband, among other judicial nominees, at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday.