The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights launched a multipronged critique of the Trump administration Friday, disapproving of new stances on voting rights, transgender people in the military, and asset forfeiture.
The eight-person panel, which is chaired by an Obama appointee, met Friday to discuss a range of issues, resulting in a flurry of public statements on civil rights following a week in which issues of racism and civil liberties have dominated headlines.
The commission, an independent, bipartisan federal agency, also issued a statement about the violence at a gathering of white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville last weekend, which resulted in one woman being killed and more than a dozen others injured.
“White supremacy and religious intolerance dishonor national commitments we have forged over time . . . and violence in the name of these ideologies must be met swiftly and forcefully with condemnation and an unwavering and unified response,’’ the commission said in a joint statement.
By unanimous vote, the commission also said it strongly disagrees with the Justice Department’s recent decision to expand federal involvement in civil asset forfeiture by state and local police authorities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the move last month, reversing an Obama administration decision to rein in the practice.
In announcing the policy change in July, Sessions said asset forfeiture “is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains and prevent new crimes from being committed.’’
Critics of asset forfeiture say police and federal agencies deprive too many Americans of due process when they seize assets from individuals, some of whom are never charged with any crime. “The Department of Justice should be ensuring the fair administration of justice, not engaging in practices that put this justice in question,’’ said Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon.
The commission also criticized the department on another front — voting rights. By a majority vote, the panel said it disagreed with the Justice Department’s new position on an Ohio voting rights case. In that case, the Obama administration had challenged how the state purged its voter rolls, but the Trump administration reversed position. Ohio has a policy of removing voters from the rolls if they haven’t voted in six years and don’t respond to an address-verification request.
The commission said the administration’s switch in legal position “opens the door to more aggressive and inaccurate purging of voter rolls, which can lead to widespread voter disenfranchisement and suppression of low-income communities and communities of color.’’
The Supreme Court is due to hear arguments in the case in October.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
A majority of the commission also urged the Trump administration to reconsider a move the president announced last month that the military will “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity.’’ The president made the announcement in a tweet, and the military has not implemented any such policy because they haven’t received guidance on it from the White House, officials have said.