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U.S. Senate confirms Dreiband to lead Justice Dept's civil rights division

Attorney Eric Dreiband in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States Senate voted 50-47 on Thursday to confirm Eric Dreiband as the new assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The vote was split along party lines. Dreiband’s nomination had languished for more than a year after President Donald Trump first nominated him to the post.

Dreiband, an attorney at the law firm Jones Day, will take over the role of leading the Civil Rights Division from John Gore, also formerly from Jones Day, who has been serving as its acting head since July of last year.

“Eric has distinguished himself as an outstanding lawyer and a committed public servant,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Dreiband’s nomination was strongly opposed by some civil rights advocacy groups, who pointed to his legal track record of representing companies in high-profile discrimination cases and articles he wrote that were critical of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Civil Rights Division has undergone tremendous changes under Sessions’ leadership and reversed course on many Obama-era legal positions, including two significant voting rights cases.

Last year, Sessions also issued a memo declaring that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender people from workplace discrimination.

Among some of the topics that have been prioritised by the Civil Rights Division under Sessions include the defence of “religious freedom,” such as backing anti-abortion centres in a case over a California law requiring notices be provided on where women can receive state-funded abortions.

The division has also pushed to file more cases against towns that discriminate against houses of worship.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Leslie Adler and Susan Thomas