Senate Approves Education Civil Rights Nominee After 8-Month Delay

Every Democrat voted against Ken Marcus while Obama nominees were confirmed by voice vote in 50 days

Ken Marcus
June 7, 2018

The Senate approved Kenneth Marcus, the Trump administration's nomination to head the Department of Education's civil rights office, after his nomination was delayed for nearly eight months.

The Senate confirmed Marcus on a party-line vote, 50 to 46. Marcus will serve as the assistant secretary for civil rights under the Department of Education, replacing Candice Jackson, who had been serving as acting head of the Office of Civil Rights since President Trump's inauguration.

Marcus's nomination lingered for 220 days, after delays from Senate Democrats. Marcus previously served in the Bush administration on the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the Department of Education, and at Housing and Urban Development.

Marcus is also the president and founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing civil rights of the Jewish people. Anti-Israel groups vigorously opposed Marcus, who they attacked for leading the fight against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel movement.

Marcus's nomination was stalled as reports showed anti-Semitism had risen by 94 percent in U.S. schools.

All Democrats voted against his nomination, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who claim they oppose the BDS movement.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) first weighed Marcus's nomination. During a meeting discussing the Marcus nomination, a senior Democratic aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the ranking member of the committee, said the Democratic office does not "care about anti-Semitism."

"We don't care about anti-Semitism in this office," Murray's senior adviser told a former colleague of Marcus. "We care about transgenders, we care about blacks, we care about Hispanics, we care about gays, we care about lesbians, we care about the disabled."

Schumer's office said it was too busy to meet with pro-Israel activists who were lobbying for Marcus to be confirmed. At the time, he released a bill dealing with marijuana use.

Though nominated on Oct. 30, 2017, the committee did not approve Marcus until Jan. 18, 2018. In all, it took 220 days for Marcus to be confirmed.

"To compare, President Obama's two nominees to this position, Russlynn Ali and Catherine Lhamon, were confirmed in 45 and 52 days, and both were confirmed by a voice vote," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the chairman of the HELP committee, noted on Thursday shortly before Marcus was confirmed.

Alexander called out Democrats for stonewalling numerous Trump administration nominees, while Republicans gave deference to former President Barack Obama's nominees, even if they disagreed with them.

"That doesn't mean that every Republican supported these nominees, but it meant we knew that students would be better served when the Department of Education had a confirmed Civil Rights official in place, even if Republicans might disagree with that person," Alexander said.

"Mr. Marcus has a deep understanding of civil rights law, he founded the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, he served as staff director for the Commission on Civil Rights for four years," Alexander said. "He's effectively served in this position before when he worked in the Department of Education under President George W. Bush, he was delegated the authority of assistant secretary for civil rights."

Patty Murray said she voted against Marcus because the Republican nominee would not say he disagreed with the Republican president who nominated him.

"I want to thank this nominee, Kenneth Marcus, for his service over the years, and for his clear commitment to the goal of fighting discrimination on our college campuses, which is certainly an issue that the OCR will face in light of evidence of hateful rhetoric and violence occurring on our campuses and our schools," Murray said. "I respect Mr. Marcus's commitment, but right now, in this administration, it's not enough. We are now just a bit more than 500 days into President Trump's term, and when it comes to his record and his rhetoric on civil rights, I haven't been surprised once."

Murray then listed a series of what she described as offensive remarks made by President Trump, including, she said, "referring to immigrants as 'animals.'" Trump was referring to violent members of the gang MS-13.

Murray's remarks on the Senate floor also echoed the sentiments of her senior adviser, listing off the areas that her committee cares about, but not including anti-Semitism.

"I feel very confident in saying when it comes to civil rights, when it comes to the rights and safety of women, of people of color, or LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities, this president has purposely fanned the flames of racism, ableism, bigotry, and sexism, in ways that we have not seen in a generation," she said. "And anyone who cares about civil rights in America should be able to point that out."

"So, that is why I'm so disappointed that President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights could not answer one of my questions in this hearing," Murray said. "When I asked Mr. Marcus to name a single example of something President Trump has said or done when it comes to discrimination or women's rights or civil rights that he disagrees with, he couldn't say one, not a single example. And that's all I was looking for."

Other Democrats, including Jeff Robbins, who was the U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the Clinton administration, said Marcus is "eminently qualified" and was responsible for "energetically enforcing antidiscrimination measures."

While serving as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Marcus pledged the commission would "aggressively prosecute harassment" against students of all religions.

"[W]e must remain particularly attentive to the claims of students who may be targeted for harassment based on their membership in groups that exhibit both ethnic and religious characteristics, such as Arab Muslims, Jewish Americans, and Sikhs," Marcus wrote.