Catherine Lhamon has been confirmed as the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights on Wednesday, after fighting her way through a combative session of criticism by Republican senators.
Catherine Lhamon previously held this same position under President Obama and Donald Trump from 2013-2018, when she was replaced by right-wing appointee Kenneth Marcus. Marcus left the position in 2020 after nine civil rights groups protested his behavior, alleging that he had abused the authority of the position.
Lhamon’s confirmation was a 50-50 tie, directly along party lines, with Vice President Kamala Harris forced to cast a tiebreaking vote. Conservatives disagree heavily with her aggressive stance on civil rights, particularly the rights of transgender students and how schools should address and investigate sexual misconduct. One Senator from Florida compared her 10-year career as an attorney for the ACLU of Southern California to being part of the Ku Klux Klan.
In Lhamon’s previous tenure, the office of Civil Rights wrote guidelines for schools that included ensuring student discipline complies with discrimination laws with regards to both race and disability, treating transgender students with respect and dignity in their stated gender, and responding appropriately to accusations of sexual violence. The guidelines, which are not suggestions but enforceable interpretations of existing laws, were issued to all schools receiving federal funding.
“She has the experience, the leadership and the dedication to stand up for students from all walks of life, something sorely lacking under the previous administration,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Lhamon has openly criticized many of the decisions made by the Department of Education under Trump Appointee Betsy DeVos, saying that she had “weakened the intent of Title IX that Congress wrote,” and that she and Trump had gutted the Office for Civil Rights, leaving it operating on a skeleton staff.