In a May 9 speech, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department was filing a complaint against North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” which requires people to use the public bathroom that matches their birth sex. The Civil Rights Division of Lynch’s Justice Department had concluded that the bill violated federal civil rights laws.
Lynch ended the speech with a sermonette to the transgender community. She expressed sympathy for transgender fears and struggles, and she pledged the full support of the federal government: “We see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.” Transgender rights, Lynch said, are the latest extension of the American “promise of equal rights for all.” America will continue to “move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy—but we’ll get there together.” With the rest of the LGBT community, transgender activists are on the Right Side of History.
The Right Side of History apparently needs a nudge from the DOJ. In the months since Lynch’s speech, the Department has been making good on her assurances. From Rhode Island to Florida, from Vermont to Iowa, from Connecticut to Louisiana, U.S. Attorneys’ offices have been hiring civil rights lawyers to initiate “federal civil actions to end discrimination and ensure compliance with federal civil rights laws.”
Some of these lawyers are filling freshly created positions. In June, the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Central District of California announced the formation of a civil rights division, headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanna Hull. South Dakota’s U.S. Attorney appointed Alison Ramsdell as the chief of a new Civil Rights Section in July. According to an Argos Leader report, Ramsdell will “educate the public on civil rights matters and pursue legal action against those who break the law.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Mississippi also added a Civil Rights Section to its existing Civil Division in June, forming a Civil Civil Rights Section [sic]. The head of Civil Division, Mitzi Dease Paige, said that the section would be “a partner with other community advocates and organizations in enforcing the civil rights of all Mississippians.” Paige encouraged citizen surveillance, welcoming “information from the public regarding possible violations of our nation’s civil rights laws.”
These new Civil Rights Sections will handle racial discrimination, complaints against police, and violations of the civil rights of prisoners—but sexual discrimination will be front and center. Lynch promises to support transgender rights; Lynch hires lawyers and creates new positions. The timing can hardly be accidental.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is making similar moves, adding to a legal team that already includes hundreds of attorneys. The division’s goal is to enforce federal civil rights law by “prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.”
On a single day, August 17, a dozen new listings for DOE attorneys appeared on usajobs.gov. These new lawyers will, among other things, advise regional DOE offices about Title IX, which has been the basis for the federal government’s gender-equality rules.
The new DOE hires are a response to the agency’s increased civil rights workload. Between 2009 and 2014, discrimination complaints rose from 6,364 to 9,989. Though the largest percentage of these complaints are related to disability, the largest increase was in sex discrimination—from 391 complaints in 2010 to 2354 in 2014. Hiring more attorneys isn’t likely to reduce the workload. Demand follows supply. More attorneys and investigators will mean more complaints, more lawsuits, and more battles for justice in the nation’s bathrooms.
Before Obama is out of office, the civil rights initiatives of his presidency will be firmly embedded in the DOJ and DOE. It’s what Chris Christie called “burrowing,” moving political appointees into civil service “in order to try to set up … roadblocks for your successor.” The next president will have troops of civil rights attorneys poised to enlighten the ignorant masses and to punish states and school districts for treating boys as boys and girls as girls.
Enlightened Evangelical David Gushee has gotten well on the Right Side of History and recently predicted a dire future for those who stand athwart the tide: “You are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. … Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”
The federal bureaucracy isn’t leaving anything to chance. It’s amassing the manpower to come and find you. The Right Side of History, coming to a U.S. Attorney’s office near you.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute. He is the author most recently of Gratitude: An Intellectual History. His previous articles can be found here.
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