Trump Administration Effort to Roll Back Title VI Protections Has Devastating Civil Rights Implications
January 6, 2021 (New York, NY) — Yesterday, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department has quietly and without stakeholder consultation submitted for White House approval a dramatic change to how it enforces and interprets Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any recipient of federal funding from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.
The DOJ amended rule calls for narrow enforcement of the law’s protections only in cases where it can prove both intentional discrimination and that any federal funding received was used for purposes of the discriminatory practices or policies. Moreover, it deliberately removes any protections that examine systemic policies or practices which, even if unintentional, tend to have a “disparate impact” on minorities. The proposal, which you can read here, was reportedly submitted on December 21, 2020, without any standard review or public comment process; if successfully implemented, it would become the first significant amendment to how the DOJ defines or enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act since 1973.
“To try to strip away these protections in the cover of darkness in the final hours of this administration is part of a concerted effort to roll back the most rudimentary civil rights protections for the most vulnerable Americans amongst us,” said Sikh Coalition Legal Director, Amrith Kaur. “This proposed change would, quite literally, take civil rights protection and enforcement backwards by 50 years.”
For the last 20 years, the Sikh Coalition–the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States–has provided direct legal services in several areas that are currently protected under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Sikh Americans, who frequently face biased-based discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, or national origin, often present cases where the discrimination they faced reveals further inequalities and discriminatory practices by employers, school systems, and government agencies by seemingly neutral policies.
The Sikh Coalition was formally alerted to the DOJ’s submission of a rule change on December 23, including the possibility that it involved removing disparate impact enforcement from the DOJ’s duties. This catalyzed us to immediately schedule a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget for January 13 to learn more about the proposal.
“The DOJ is meant to be a partner in protecting minorities from discrimination, and the agency would be well served to consult with those communities–including by allowing the public to comment on these changes,” said Ms. Kaur. “We hope this new rule is immediately withdrawn, given how problematic it is. Otherwise, if this administration insists on stripping away some of the most basic protections afforded to millions of minorities across America in their final days in power, they should be prepared for a serious fight.”