Kenneth Marcus couldn’t name a single thing about Trump’s abysmal civil-rights record that he disagreed with this past December during a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to a top post in the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education (DOE).
That, unfortunately, is unsurprising. Since taking office, most of President Trump’s nominees have been appallingly underqualified, corrupt, or openly hostile to the mission of the agency they’re appointed to lead. Kenneth Marcus is no exception. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee is expected to vote on his nomination next week, followed by a full Senate vote shortly after. His record should disqualify him from the job.
If confirmed as head of the Office for Civil Rights, Marcus will control the implementation of federal education policy intended to protect vulnerable student groups from discrimination. He will have the power to manage civil rights investigations and to determine their outcomes. He will have the power to create federal civil rights policy, and he will decide how the Department prioritizes its already anemic resources—for example, should the Department assign its attorneys to investigate allegations of institutionalized anti-black racism, or political speech alleged to be anti-Semitic? That will be Marcus’s choice, and his record makes clear the choices he’ll make.
Marcus has consistently taken positions that reveal his anti–civil rights agenda. During his time as head of the US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR)—a position he held from 2004 to 2008, under George W. Bush—he opposed affirmative action and other remedies to racial discrimination by overseeing the publication of a report backing the dismantling of affirmative action in law schools. He also argued against university efforts to achieve diversity through “race-neutral alternatives” and other means, and he opposed a proposal to expand the scope of the USCCR to enable it to investigate violations of LGBTQ rights and broader human rights. More recently, during his HELP Committee hearing, Marcus said that he agreed with Secretary Betsy DeVos’s decision to rescind detailed Title IX guidance on sexual assault and increase protections for accused abusers.
This history has alarmed civil-rights groups, both in the lead-up to his confirmation hearings as well as further back, during his days at USCCR. In a 2007 letter to Marcus, the ACLU denounced the commission’s drift from its “historic mission of vigorously investigating and reporting on civil rights abuses against minority and disenfranchised communities, to a new mission, which has called into question programs designed to ameliorate the historic effects of discrimination.” The letter highlighted the fact that, under Marcus’s leadership, the commission “reversed its longstanding positions on desegregation and affirmative action,” took positions against the Voting Rights Act, and failed “to investigate serious allegations of civil rights abuses, such racial issues arising out of the Jena 6 case or the allegation that black neighborhoods in Ohio did not receive sufficient numbers of voting machines in the 2004 election.”