Verdict First, Trial Later

by Peter Kirsanow

Two items related to last Friday’s meeting of the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights perfectly capture knee-jerk bureaucratic and media hostility toward President Trump.

First, the Commission voted to conduct an efficacy review of civil-rights enforcement by federal agencies. Not only is such review unremarkable, the Commission is required by statute to produce an annual civil-rights-enforcement report. Such report was done in each of the 15 years I’ve served on the Commission. And each year the media yawned, if they bothered to report about them at all.

Friday, however, several media outlets reported the present efficacy review in breathless terms suggesting some wrongdoing, scandal, or nefarious conduct by the Trump administration related to civil-rights enforcement, failing to note that these reviews are not unique or peculiar to this president. Headlines such as ”Civil Rights Commission Launches Probe of Trump Administration” convey a different impression than “Civil Rights Commission Conducts Routine Review.”

Second, after voting to embark on the efficacy review, the Commission’s liberal majority (Kirsanow and Gail Heriot dissenting) issued a statement condemning President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to certain civil-rights agencies and expressing ”grave concerns” that due to ”the President’s proposed budget and statements of Cabinet and some administration officials, that the protection and fulfillment of civil rights of all persons will not be appropriately prioritized.”

Got that? Before calling even one witness, propounding a single interrogatory, reviewing any documents, analyzing an iota of data, or evaluating any outcomes whatsoever, the Commission has condemned the administration’s civil-rights budget and enforcement priorities.

Contrary to the impression one would get from the Commission majority’s statement, the Trump budget proposal modestly increases funding for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. What’s really remarkable isn’t the Trump administration’s proposal, but rather the fact that despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which significantly reduced the Civil Rights Division’s workload, the Obama administration repeatedly expanded its budget. The Commission majority’s concern that the budget proposal reduces the Division’s staffing by 14 lawyers neglects to mention that 383 lawyers remain.

Similarly, the Commission majority expresses alarm over budget reductions for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. But the proposed budget cut is a mere 1.57 percent. This, after OCR received an unusually large (and in Heriot and Kirsanow’s opinion, unjustified) 7 percent increase in Fiscal Year 2016. OCR has been exceeding its authority for years. An even larger cut to its $108.5 million (yes, you read that right) budget would be better.

Given the above, there can be little doubt that the Commission’s efficacy review will be, to put it mildly, negative. So why spend manpower and taxpayer dollars on a foregone conclusion? Just cut to the chase and slam the administration as hostile and dangerous to civil rights.

The Trump administration dare not trim a few dollars from the budget when the deficit is only a few hundred billion and the national debt is a mere $20,000,000,000,000. Fiscal sanity must not be allowed to prevail over bureaucratic, ideological, or political imperatives.

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