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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 18, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 33
Trump thinks Neo-Nazis are 'fine,' but Obama-era legal protections have to go
Section One
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Trump thinks Neo-Nazis are 'fine,' but Obama-era legal protections have to go

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

While the Trump administration is reeling from the President's public endorsement of Neo-Nazis and white nationalists as 'fine people,' his Justice Department is quietly reversing the verdicts on Obama-era policies that protect civil rights, healthcare, and the environment.

'Many of these changes are not just changes in policy, but they're actually reversing the U.S. government's official position on what statutes mean,' says David Cole, legal director for the ACLU. 'What a statute means ought not to change from one administration to another. The law is the law.'

The sheer number of changes, plus the complete reversal of Obama-era guidelines and administrative rulings suggest that Trump's aim is not merely to shift legal policy in a more conservative direction, but literally to dismantle all the legal precedents of his predecessor.

In some cases, the new administration is threatening to take its policy reversals even further through court action.

For example, the Trump Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said in a court filing that federal civil rights laws do not protect Gays and Lesbians from workplace discrimination.

This is a direct contradiction to a 2015 ruling by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) - the federal agency charged with enforcing workplace protections - that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects sexual orientation.

In 2012, the EEOC also ruled that Title VII protects gender identity. Federal appeals courts have split on these issues, and the US Supreme Court may ultimately render a decision in one or more cases involving the scope of Title VII. If or when it does, the high court will make its decision with the Trump Justice Department arguing for the most restrictive interpretation of federal law, whereas Obama's Justice Department supported the most expansive reading of the laws.

While EEOC commissioners do not change with every new administration, and Obama-era appointees still dominate the agency, the commission depends on support from Justice Department attorneys to uphold its rulings in court, so the prognosis for an LGBT-inclusive reading of Title VII is not good.

Trump's Justice Department has also intervened in voting rights cases to try to restrict ballot access for people of color and poor people.

In a case originating in Ohio - which will be heard by the US Supreme Court this fall - the Obama Justice Department opposed a state law allowing people to be removed from voter rolls merely for failing to vote, and without any other inquiries or evidence. Trump's attorneys say the Ohio law is reasonable.

In a Texas case, Obama's Justice Department opposed the state's strict photo-ID requirements, and a federal judge subsequently found that the law was intended to discriminate against minorities. In February the Trump Justice Department dropped that claim, and last month it said the Texas law did not harm minorities at all.

o On voting rights, 'this is the most aggressive set of changes we've seen,' says Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center and a frequent Supreme Court litigator who specializes in defending voters' rights.

The Trump administration is not stopping there, however, but is reversing Obama-era legal policies in a number of other areas as well:

o On immigration, Trump's Department of Homeland Security ended Obama's DAPA program in June, putting millions of undocumented immigrants with children who are US citizens at immediate risk of deportation. The Trump administration is also thinking about ending Obama's DACA program, that has protected 800,000 immigrants who came to the US as children.

o On health care, the administration may drop its appeal of a lower court decision striking down a provision of the ACA (Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) that pays insurers to keep costs down for low-income participants. Without the reimbursements, insurance premiums could skyrocket.

o On climate change, Trump administration attorneys have asked a federal appeals court to delay ruling on Obama's landmark Clean Power Plan, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The administration previously put policy on hold for 18 months, and a delayed court ruling will prevent it from taking effect.

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