President Donald Trump’s administration has taken a lawnmower to civil rights protections for minorities during his years in office, and they are taking one last whack on their way out the door. The Department of Justice has submitted a proposal to the White House to change the way they enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The section prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin. It covers housing programs, employers, schools, hospitals, and other organizations and programs. The move could also have an impact on LGBTQ rights.
The proposed change was quietly submitted by the department last month and bypassed the normal federal rule-making process that requires the government to publish the change and allow for public comment. It was one of former Attorney General Bill Barr’s last acts.
The incoming Biden administration would not be able to automatically repeal the change, but the new Attorney General could delay implementation. Any lawsuits over the change would likely end up before the Supreme Court, now controlled by conservatives who have expressed hostility to civil rights laws.
The change would specifically eliminate “disparate impact” protections for minorities. This is one of the most important tools in civil rights cases, because it doesn’t require plaintiffs to prove intent to discriminate. Instead, it covers instances where policies have a different impact on minority groups.
For example, one of the most famous of these types of cases involved literacy tests for voting that was meant to prevent Black people from voting. Because they had frequently been forced out of schools, this put Black people at a disadvantage. The law didn’t specifically single out Black Americans, but its effects took away their right to vote more than others.
The law has also been used to determine if educational institutions are punishing students of color or LGBTQ students at a different rate than others.
The administration has gutted civil rights laws throughout the federal legal system, valuing “religious liberties” over everything else. Trump has also tried to give Christians a license to discriminate by simply claiming their religion requires them to do it.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that religion can’t be used as an excuse for violating civil rights laws except under very narrow circumstances, but the current makeup of the Court, stocked with far-right religious extremists by Trump, would likely use the opportunity to chip away at the protections offered by the federal government.