Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity
Civil Rights Reformer
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A longtime civil-rights lawyer with a passion for educational equity, Catherine Lhamon has returned to the White House to craft domestic policy through a racial-justice lens.
After graduating from Yale Law School, Lhamon spent a decade working for the ACLU of Southern California before serving as director of impact litigation at Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. In 2013, President Obama nominated her to serve as assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, where she led a team of 600 people and managed cases involving discrimination violations. Most notably, her team authored guidance to colleges that inadequate responses to sexual-assault cases or discrimination against transgender students could constitute a violation of Title IX. Her office also wrote that schools with significant racial disparities in school-discipline outcomes may be violating federal civil-rights laws.
Just before he left office, Obama named Lhamon chair of the Commission on Civil Rights. Three years later, Gov. Gavin Newsom brought her on as California’s secretary of legal affairs.
Since joining the Domestic Policy Council, Lhamon has played a key role in developing equity-driven policy; as early examples of progress, she cites provisions of the American Rescue Plan projected to reduce poverty among racial minorities and an executive order directing the federal government to fully enforce laws against sex discrimination.
Approach and Motivations
Excerpted from Catherine‘s Vignette profile
An outspoken and collaborative advocate for civil rights, Lhamon’s work in education demonstrates her deep commitment to helping underserved communities
- Inspired by her parents’ activism fighting for racial equality and civil rights, enrolled in law school with the goal of making a difference, particularly in the education arena
- Evaluates policy based on whether or not it aligns with her goals of civil rights and equity; criticized the Trump Justice Department for reducing staff in the Civil Rights Division, taking fewer civil-rights enforcement actions, and ceasing “pattern or practice” investigations into police departments suspected of violating constitutional rights
- Employed collaborative approach to implementing education policies aimed at expanding educational experience and access to students who have been traditionally underrepresented; values the insights of colleagues and the perspectives of civil-rights groups to identify and implement policy priorities
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