Trump appoints expert on defending racial gerrymanders as senior civil rights official

Wolf, meet hen-house.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File

One of the very first appointments President Trump announced shortly after his victorious second-place finish in the 2016 election was Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to lead the Department of Justice. Sessions, who was denied a federal judgeship in the 1980s due to concerns that he is too racist, once prosecuted a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after that aide helped African Americans cast a ballot.

A second appointment, revealed shortly before Trump’s inauguration, suggests that the Sessions nomination is not a fluke.

John Gore, who Trump appointed as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, is not a civil rights lawyer. Until recently, he was a partner at Jones Day, a large law firm employing many prominent Republican lawyers, where he litigated business cases ranging from antitrust to product liability.

Gore, has, however, worked on some civil rights-related issues — on the side of people who were accused of violating civil rights laws — including several cases alleging illegal racial gerrymanders.

Among other things, Gore was one of the lawyers who defended North Carolina’s HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that locked transgender individuals out of public restrooms that corresponded with their gender identity. The backlash against HB2 is widely viewed as a major reason why former Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) lost his reelection bid last November.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Gore represented at least two state officials before the Justice Department’s civil rights division, seeking to have legislative maps “precleared” under a process that existed to prevent racial voter discrimination until the Supreme Court largely ended it.

He’s also defended a number of state legislative maps against lawsuits alleging that they violate the remaining portions of the Voting Rights Act. And he defended an effort by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to purge his state’s voting rolls in the lead up to the 2012 election.

It should be noted that, as an attorney in private practice, the fact that Gore took on these particular clients does not necessarily indicate that he agrees with the position they wanted to him take in court.

But it is also not clear just how much Gore’s personal views matter. The fact remains that, of all the lawyers Trump could have appointed to this position, he chose a non-specialist in civil rights whose primary relevant experience involves defending clients accused of racial voter discrimination — with a detour into a high profile case seeking to limit LGBT rights.

That, in addition to the Sessions nomination, offers a fairly clear window into what sort of Justice Department Trump hopes to preside over.