Biden should champion a brand new Civil Rights Act

During the turbulent years of the Trump administration – controversy, investigations, impeachments – there was always at least one constant: a determination to dramatically reduce civil rights. Even if the nation is still ravaged by a deadly attempted insurgency, instigated by none other than President Trump himself, the Justice Department is pushing a major rule change that would severely curtail anti-discrimination enforcement. If not otherwise, this final effort to curtail the protection of civil rights should remind the future Biden government that it must make combating inequality and discrimination a priority. That means strengthening the enforcement of existing laws and advocating a new civil rights law that addresses the most pressing needs of this era.

The Trump administration’s rule change would effectively invalidate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits federal funding organizations that prohibit discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Under the new regime, the Department of Justice will continue to enforce the law in cases where there is evidence of intent to discriminate, but will cease to do so in cases where a particular policy is shown to be discriminatory only on the basis of its “differential effects”. on marginalized groups. In other words, policies that are on the surface racially neutral but have a disproportionately negative impact on protected groups – like some disciplinary measures in schools – are no longer investigated and are allowed to persist.

This change will only lead to further discrimination as discriminatory intentions are difficult to prove. “By and large, actions that are taken – although sometimes with a very explicit racist purpose – are more often not explicitly about their intent,” said Liz King, director of the Education Equity Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Some may not have any racist intent at all. And at the end of the day, intent doesn’t matter. If a policy harms marginalized groups, it should be changed or repealed, whether or not its different effects are intended.

While the new rule does not explicitly promote racial discrimination, the intent is clear. “Sometimes white supremacy shows up with footnotes, letterheads and legal entities, and it is no less harmful than its other manifestations,” King told the Globe editorial team. “The effect of this rule could be to allow discrimination funded by the federal government.”

When Joe Biden is officially sworn in, his government will have a lot to do – from managing the coronavirus to rebuilding the economy to tackling violent white nationalist threats. Among the crises facing the nation, the racial injustices that have exacerbated them are widespread. Therefore, a central tenet of the Biden government must be the cause of promoting civil rights. And it can start delaying the implementation of the latest Trump administrative rule while the next Justice Department goes through the process of complete reversal. The Biden administration should also strengthen the many other existing civil rights laws that the Trump administration has dismantled. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development should reintroduce the Obama-era rule to encourage fair living.

In addition to working within the current legal framework, Biden should seek to expand the role of the federal government in promoting racial equality. Since the 1960s, the Conservative movement has worked to undo the legacy of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. through sabotage laws like the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the United States could not escape Jim Crow’s shadow. Schools are more segregated than they were in the 1970s, for example, and blacks are more disenfranchised in some states than they were in the 1980s.

By not only strengthening existing laws, but also advocating extensive and aggressive reforms under a new civil rights law that creates new anti-racist housing policies, reforms police practices and explicitly protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, would Biden doing this send a signal that an anti-racist agenda will be the cornerstone on which the nation will rebuild.

This is how Biden can ultimately achieve his ultimate goal of uniting the country. In the end, there is no way forward, no way for the nation to heal, without finally dismantling the systemic racism and bigotry within the federal government that white supremacists like those who carried out a deadly attack on America’s multicultural democracy for two weeks, has enabled before.

In just a few days, against the backdrop of a growing anti-racist movement, Biden will be sworn in alongside Kamala Harris, who will be the country’s first wife, Black, and Indo-American vice president. It will look like the beginning of a new era. It is up to Biden to do this through the fight for civil rights.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeOpinion.

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