Education Department Nominee Says Trump Title IX Changes Let Students Rape 'With Impunity'

Proponents say DeVos rules protected due process rights of the accused

Catherine Lhamon (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
July 14, 2021

Education Department nominee Catherine Lhamon claimed during a Tuesday Senate committee hearing that Trump-era Title IX changes intended to ensure due process for the accused allowed college students to rape and harass classmates "with impunity."

In response to a question from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), Lhamon doubled down on a 2020 tweet in which she said that then-education secretary Betsy DeVos's Title IX rules would mark a return to "the bad old days" on college campuses, "when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity."

Lhamon, whom President Joe Biden tapped to serve as assistant secretary for civil rights, told Cassidy she stood by her tweet. But she assured the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that she would uphold the rules unless the Education Department reverses the Trump-era changes.

The Biden administration in April began the process of undoing DeVos's Title IX rules, which proponents say protect due process rights. Some activists criticized the changes, which were adopted in August, because they allowed students accused of sexual misconduct to cross-examine their accusers through a third-party mediator. The DeVos rules also delegated incidents of sexual harassment and assault that occur off campus to local authorities.

Lhamon, who served as assistant secretary for civil rights in the Obama administration, was influential in crafting the Obama Education Department's "Dear Colleague" letters, which gave university administrators guidelines on how to handle Title IX sexual assault cases. Critics on the right say the Dear Colleague letters chipped away at due process by lowering the standard of evidence needed to punish alleged perpetrators and encouraging universities to punish students accused of wrongdoing prior to reaching a settlement in the case.

Candice Jackson, who served as the assistant secretary for civil rights under DeVos, told the Free Beacon that Lhamon's comments show she'll politicize campus sexual assault.

"She's revealing her intent to treat campus sexual harassment once again as an ideological battle cry instead of doing the hard work of fostering a system that seeks justice every time sexual harassment allegedly interferes with someone's educational access," Jackson, one of the architects of the DeVos Title IX rules, said. "Lhamon has been consistent and transparent about her disdain for due process and her refusal to acknowledge that Title IX investigations invoke three distinct interests that need to be balanced—the perspective of the institution, of the complainant, and of the respondent."

The 2020 Title IX changes were the first to mandate that universities protect individuals who allege that they were abused, including providing escorts to class or adjusting class schedules, while the school investigates the matter.