As President Obama said in last week’s State of the Union address, when women succeed, America succeeds. Strong enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws is a key component of women’s ability to succeed at work, at school and at home.
An outstanding individual is poised to continue this critically important work: Debo Adegbile. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Thursday vote on his nomination to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Laws like Title VII and Title IX protect equal opportunity for women, but without enforcement, they are just words on a page. The Civil Rights Division enforces legal protections important to women, such as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act and protections against hate crimes and human trafficking. The division is also responsible for enforcing protections against discrimination on the basis of disability and immigration status.
And they make a difference. For example, it recently challenged Massachusetts for discriminating against women in hiring for entry-level positions in correctional institutions; investigated gender discrimination and sexual harassment by law enforcement agencies; brought cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of gender discrimination, mostly against landlords harassing lower-income women with limited housing options; and protected women’s ability to obtain reproductive health care without harassment or intimidation. The result? Women around the country are safer, have more resources in cases of domestic violence, and face fewer discriminatory barriers at work and at school.
Adegbile is unquestionably the right person to lead the division. In addition to stellar legal credentials and a broad range of experience in private practice, public interest law and government service, he has spent much of his career furthering the antidiscrimination protections that are at the heart of the division’s mission. At the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), he led the work on groundbreaking civil rights cases that go to the heart of discriminatory barriers that limit opportunities for women and girls at school and at work. For example, in 2010, Adegbile supervised the LDF team that litigated Lewis v. City of Chicago, an employment discrimination action brought on behalf of a class of African-American firefighter applicants. As the National Women’s Law Center and other groups wrote in an amicus brief in Lewis, it is critical that we continue to have strong tools to challenge employment practices that disproportionately harm women, such as height and weight requirements and inadequate restroom facilities. Other cases of particular import to women on which Adegbile worked include Fisher v. University of Texas, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Sch. Dist. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.
Debo Adegbile has the qualifications, the experience and the dedication to core civil rights protections to lead the Civil Rights Division. Women, and all those who rely on the laws enforced by the division, are counting on the Senate to confirm him without delay.
Fatima Goss Graves is Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center, where she works to promote the rights of women and girls at school and in the workplace.