Welcome to “The Brief,” a monthly roundup of Democracy Forward’s latest work to hold the Trump administration accountable. Read on below for news of our victories, newest filings, latest case updates, and resources to learn more.
Our lawsuits have brought unlawful Trump-era policies to the forefront of the Biden administration’s attention. We’ve already seen some of these policies reversed, and we’ll keep up the fight on the rest.
We’ve helped bring about three withdrawals of Trump-era policies, brought an immediate halt to the effective date of a discriminatory rule, and received two commitments from the Biden administration to review unlawful policies his predecessor left behind.
We also welcomed two new litigators to our team: Jessica Morton and Samara Spence! In the coming months, count on us to continue exposing and challenging old Trump-era landmines and new guerrilla attempts to corrupt and stymie lawful government policymaking.
Always on behalf of the people it hurts.
Leaving lasting lessons at DHS 🤓
DHS acknowledges Trump-era leaks of individuals’ immigration status to Fox News, Breitbart “indicate possible privacy and civil rights violations.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties responded to our May 2020 request for an investigation regarding Trump appointees at the Department’s Office of Public Affairs leaking the immigration status of individuals accused of crimes to right-wing outlets to propel the false and racist narrative that noncitizens are dangerous criminals.
In sharing the information, DHS officials may have violated the Privacy Act of 1974, which regulates federal agencies’ use and dissemination of personal information, and may have also violated internal DHS policies.
In its new response to our investigation request, DHS acknowledged “possible privacy and civil rights violations” by Trump appointees who leaked personal data about noncitizens to push Trump’s anti-immigrant message. DHS committed to “proactively address these issues” with new training protocols.
Fortunately, the officials who leaked this information are now far from the levers of government power. We’re encouraged that DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is working to curb these practices in the future.
Halting harms handed down from Trump 🛑
Foster youth & LGBTQ+ advocacy groups celebrate Biden Admin agreement to halt discriminatory HHS rule change.
In response to our lawsuit against the Trump administration’s last-ditch effort to scrap nondiscrimination requirements for taxpayer-funded grants, Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services agreed to a court order that immediately stayed the effective date of a discriminatory Trump-era rule.
Had the Trump rule gone into effect, it would have eliminated essential protections preventing service providers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other characteristics when providing HHS grant-funded services.
Our partners and clients in the suit explained:
“There was simply no excuse for the Trump administration’s unlawful policy sanctioning taxpayer-funded discrimination against people who receive services from HHS grant programs, including youth and families in the child welfare system, youth experiencing homelessness and older adults, among other vulnerable populations.
“We commend the Biden-Harris administration for hitting pause on this harmful and unlawful Trump-era rule, and hope that it will move forward expeditiously to ensure that all persons receive equal treatment under the law.”
In the news — The Intercept | How The Trump Era Encouraged Publicly Funded Discrimination in Adoption and Foster Care
“DURING HIS FINAL days in office, Donald Trump issued a flurry of last-minute regulations. Included among them was a little-known rule that, if allowed to go into effect, will codify into law a long-held aspiration of the religious right, which buoyed his rise to power.”
“The rule, finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services on January 12 and set to go into effect February 11, allows taxpayer-funded social service agencies to discriminate based on a person’s LGBTQ status or religious belief. The final rule comes after a yearslong push by conservative Christian groups to reinterpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prioritize their right to refuse services to people based on sexual orientation or religious belief.”
Biden’s Dept. of Labor retracts unlawful Trump-era policy that shredded protections for immigrant victims of workplace abuse.
An outright win: The Department of Labor announced the withdrawal of an unlawful Trump-era policy that had undermined essential protections of its U and T visa certification policy for immigrant victims and witnesses of workplace crimes and human trafficking.
We filed suit over the changes last summer on behalf of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The Trump administration made workers less safe by discouraging them from aiding law enforcement in combating workplace crimes and making it easier for abusive employers to get away with exploitation.
Now that the new administration has decided to withdraw the harmful and unlawful Trump-era policy, we are encouraged that the Biden DOL is signaling a return to the prior robust and effective U and T visa certification policy.
Read about the case — AP | Immigrant advocates say US policy change endangers workers
“NEW ORLEANS — Immigrant advocates in New Orleans claim in a federal lawsuit that federal rule changes made last year by the U.S. Department of Labor will make foreign workers fearful of reporting workplace abuses or human trafficking for fear of being deported.
“The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, deals with visas issued to protect workers from deportation when they report workplace crimes. The lawsuit says that last year, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division began requiring that applications for such visas, known as “U” and “T” visas, be referred to law enforcement agencies before they are approved.”
DOJ, EPA scrap Trump-era memo that unlawfully axed use of clean-up projects in environmental enforcement settlements.
Early last month, Biden’s Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency retracted an unlawful memo penned by Jeffrey Bossert Clark (y’know, who plotted with Trump to seize the DOJ for political gain?)that had prohibited the DOJ and EPA from including supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) in settlements for pollution-related violations.
SEPs have long been used to secure important, real-world benefits for the environment and the communities most harmed by pollution, which are disproportionately low-income and communities of color.
We sued over the Trump administration’s unlawful prohibition of SEPs on behalf of the Conservation Law Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation.
We’re proud of our fight to ensure the DOJ and EPA follow the law and reverse the unlawful Trump administration policy, and we welcome the Biden administration’s swift action to do just that.
In the news — Bloomberg Law | DOJ’s Rapid Rollback of Trump Policies Marks Environmental Reset
“The Justice Department’s swift elimination of Trump-era environmental policies sets a fresh tone for the agency under the Biden administration…
“The withdrawal, first reported Thursday by Bloomberg Law, scraps restrictions on certain types of mitigation measures and popular settlement tools called supplemental environmental projects, or SEPs. Jean E. Williams, a career official currently leading ENRD, said the Trump-era policies were ‘inconsistent with longstanding Division policy and practice.’
“The move drew quick praise from environmental advocates, industry lawyers, and former Justice Department lawyers across the political spectrum—many of whom viewed an array of Trump memos as counterproductive to resolving cases and righting environmental wrongs.”
Biden Admin announces intent in court to rescind unlawful Trump rule that gave federal contractors expanded ability to discriminate.
Less than a month after we filed suit challenging the Trump administration’s dramatic expansion of a rule to allow federal contractors & subcontractors to justify discriminatory employment decisions with religious exceptions, the Biden Department of Justice told a federal court that it “intends to propose rescission of the rule at issue.”
In announcing its intent to rescind the rule, the Biden administration also requested a 90-day stay of the litigation.
We went to court alongside Oregon Tradeswomen, Pride at Work, the American Federation of Teachers and partners NWLC, Albies & Stark, LLC, to protect women and LGBTQ+ individuals’ most basic rights in the workplace. We’ll continue our fight to set aside the Trump administration’s unlawful policy.
In the news — Bloomberg Law | DOL Plans to Rescind Religious Contractor Exemption Rule
“The Labor Department’s contractor compliance agency will propose to roll back a controversial Trump-era rule that broadened the defenses religious federal contractors can use when accused of workplace discrimination.
“The DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs told a Southern District of New York judge Tuesday and a District of Oregon judge Wednesday that it ‘intends to propose rescission’ of the rule ‘in the near future,’ requesting stays in separate cases brought in January by a group of states and labor unions challenging the regulation.”
OSHA tells court it intends to prioritize work on a permanent infectious diseases standard for healthcare settings.
In response to our lawsuit, the Biden administration told a federal court that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “intends to prioritize the development of an infectious diseases standard for the healthcare sector” that would protect healthcare workers from infectious diseases spread by contact, droplets, or the air — like influenza, COVID-19, and Ebola.
What’s next: The court put the case in abeyance and the parties will file a status report in 60 days, updating the court on OSHA’s prioritization of an infectious diseases standard.
On behalf of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) —
We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s representations about prioritizing rulemaking on a permanent infectious diseases standard, and we’ll continue our fight to ensure OSHA moves ahead with these critical workplace protections for our nation’s healthcare professionals.
Biden Admin announces COVID-19 special enrollment period for ACA, reversing unlawful refusal by Trump.
The Biden administration’s announcement
That kind of real world difference is why we sued on behalf of the City of Chicago to challenge the Trump Department of Health and Human Services’ earlier refusal to reopen enrollment. We voluntarily dismissed our lawsuit once the new administration reversed Trump’s unlawful position.
The callous Trump-era decision was an unlawful and inexcusable impediment for tens of thousands of Chicagoans — and millions of Americans — who needed access to high-quality, affordable health insurance amid this once-in-a-century pandemic. We’re proud of our fight to once again protect the Affordable Care Act from the Trump administration’s unlawful sabotage.
In the inbox — Health Affairs | COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period
“On February 3, Chicago voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit, initially filed in June 2020, asking a federal district court in DC to require the government to authorize a special enrollment period due to the COVID-19 crisis. That move was opposed by the Trump administration, which declined to offer a broad enrollment option. Although briefing has long been completed, the lawsuit is no longer needed following the announcement from CMS—as urged in an executive order from President Biden—that it would allow a broad special enrollment period for HealthCare.gov from February 15 to May 15.”
Continuing to hold Trump appointees accountable
Federal court rejects Trump admin’s effort to evade accountability for unlawfully gutting anti-redlining protections.
We started off February right with a federal court rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to evade accountability for unlawfully gutting the Community Reinvestment Act — a law that combats structural, financial discrimination in neighborhoods harmed by redlining.
The harm caused by the Trump-era evisceration of anti-redlining rules is real and urgent. Amid a pandemic, the ensuing economic downturn, and calls for racial justice, the policy change under Trump’s Comptroller of the Currency exacerbated structural racism in community funding, making it harder to address redlining and ensure access to financial services for communities of color and low- and moderate-income communities.
We and our partners, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the California Reinvestment Coalition, are glad to see the court’s rejection of the former admin’s motion to dismiss. We’ll continue to press forward in our case to protect marginalized communities and return the protections of the Community Reinvestment Act from the Trump administration’s continued unlawful grip.
Federal court denies Trump admin’s motion to dismiss consumer advocates’ claims against CFPB Taskforce; rules suit can continue.
Just last week, a federal court denied the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss our lawsuit on behalf of consumer advocates over former CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger’s unlawful Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law.
In its ruling, the court affirmed that the harms suffered by the consumer advocates “can be redressed by a use injunction, prohibiting the Defendants from relying on the report. … In the alternative, the Court could require the Defendants to attach a disclaimer to the report stating that it was produced in violation of FACA.”
ICYMI: The former administration created an illegal and unnecessary Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law, stacked it with champions of financial deregulation while excluding consumer advocates, and produced a final report behind closed doors.
Alongside our partners — the National Association of Consumer Advocates, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and consumer law expert Professor Kathleen Engel — we are pleased the court rejected the Trump administration’s attempts to evade accountability for its unlawful Taskforce, and we look forward to continuing our legal fight.
Providing additional evidence in the National Archives’ investigation of former Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross’s illegal use of private email.
Our FOIA suit uncovered a treasure trove of emails former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross illegally sent and received on a private email account in violation of federal law.
We’re passing on the receipts to the National Archives and Records Administration for use in a pending investigation into Ross’s illicit use of private email to conduct government business.
We sent a letter to NARA recommending steps to ensure all agency records in Ross’s private email account are located and preserved, as Ross’s private email account may contain additional government records that could be located with further searches and would be lost otherwise.
Our investigation revealed that, over the course of a year and a half, Ross used private email accounts to send or receive hundreds of work-related emails, which featured:
- Correspondence with numerous domestic and foreign corporations with business before the Department of Commerce
- Discussions of meetings with numerous foreign officials, lobbyists, and CEOs
- Correspondence with Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson
- Correspondence with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich about Republican Party donors interested in investment opportunities
- Emails from Richard Grenell, former ambassador to Germany, about meetings with foreign manufacturers