The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has existed since the aftermath of the Civil War.
Some of the essential tasks that the DOJ must carry out on a daily basis are “to enforce the law and defend the interests of the U.S. according to the law, to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”
In short, the DOJ is an extraordinarily important executive department, especially in a period of our history where far too many Americans still do not receive fair and impartial justice and are not equally protected under the laws.
Under the direction of former President Obama, many members of the department — from the leaders to the supervisors to the rank-and-file lawyers performing the essential, but largely unseen, work that is crucial to a well-functioning bureaucracy — set an excellent example for how to robustly seek justice in all areas of the law.
Whether it was the extensive protocol and procedure reviews of police departments all across the country in the face of growing police brutality towards African-Americans or the vital cross-sectional working groups such as the Indian Working Group or the LGBT Working Group, the DOJ in the Obama administration displayed an admirable commitment to ensuring that justice was administered fairly — particularly among groups who have been and continue to be the victims of discrimination.
Unfortunately, this persistent devotion to justice is unlikely to continue at the same level during the Trump administration.
In a broader effort to curb federal spending, the blueprint that staffers from the Trump transition team drafted includes, among other provisions, eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — developed during the Clinton administration to build “trust and mutual respect between police and communities” — and it calls for funding reductions in the Civil Rights Division as well as in the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Given the nature of the blueprint’s suggested cuts, one wonders whether Trump staffers have even been paying attention to the events that have taken place in this country in the past few years.
With respect to the proposed elimination of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, we need look no further than the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota, the shooting of Alton Sterling in Louisiana or the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in my own hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, to see that tremendous work still needs to be done when it comes to increasing trust and mutual respect among police and communities.
To eliminate this office and to make budget cuts in the Civil Rights Division would be a very odd decision, given that in recent times there has been a sustained national dialogue on how to best foster a better and safer environment for citizens and police officers alike.
Moreover, cuts to the Environment and Natural Resources Division — a sector of the DOJ that brings cases against those who violate the nation’s civil and criminal pollution-control laws — would also be ill-advised given that climate change is perhaps the most pressing yet least discussed problem in the American political discourse.
Equally troubling, too, are some of Trump’s picks for the lawyers who would work in the Department.
One choice in particular, John Gore, is a serious concern.
Gore, who would hold the position of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, has defended a number of redistricting-related cases, and he was also one of the principal attorneys who defended North Carolina’s infamous and grossly discriminatory 2016 legislation known as HB 2.
The plans for the DOJ during the Trump administration are potentially disastrous, and they significantly break with precedent with regard to its recent efforts to bring justice for all Americans.
Trump and his team would do well to take stock of recent national events, and from there reevaluate their plan for one of the country’s most important executive departments.