Trump picks new acting attorney general with an ugly record of defending racism

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Jeffrey Rosen is just the latest Trump appointee to deny the existence of racial bias in the justice system.

Donald Trump has appointed Deputy Attorney Jeffrey Rosen to the position of acting attorney general, replacing Attorney General William Barr, who resigned on Monday. Rosen's history of defending racism raises concerns about his ability to apply the concept of equal justice under the law as the Trump administration crams in as many federal executions as it can before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration in January.

Barr had publicly contradicted Trump's false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Rosen has no experience as a federal prosecutor. He previously served as deputy secretary of transportation and as general counsel in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

During his 2019 hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the position of deputy attorney general, Rosen was asked by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut whether the Supreme Court's landmark anti-segregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 was correct.

"Senator, I don't think that it would be a productive exercise for me to go through the most–thousands of Supreme Court opinions and say which ones are right and which ones are wrong," Rosen responded.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund issued a statement urging senators not to vote to confirm Rosen.

“Jeffrey Rosen's failure to endorse the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education is unprecedented and unforgivable," wrote policy director Lisa Cylar Barrett, adding, "Mr. Rosen's refusal to explicitly support the decision sends a distressing signal about what we can expect to see from the Department he will help lead, if confirmed."

After he had voted against Rosen's confirmation, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) stated: "In a written question, I asked Mr. Rosen about implicit racial bias and he replied that he had 'not studied the issue.' It is profoundly troubling and beyond belief that the individual who is nominated to be the second-highest ranking law enforcement official in the United States has not studied the issue of implicit racial bias. We need leaders at the Department of Justice who are familiar with these issues, who understand the problem of implicit bias in the criminal justice system, and who are dedicated to addressing it. Mr. Rosen is clearly not that leader."

Booker's office did not immediately respond to request for comment on Rosen's promotion.

In November 2019, Rosen penned an op-ed published in the Washington Post that slammed Democratic prosecutors for police reform efforts: "A prosecutor has a vital role: to enforce the law fairly and keep the public safe. These purportedly progressive district attorneys, however, are shirking that duty in favor of unfounded decriminalization policies they claim are necessary to fix a 'broken' system."

"These prosecutors risk demeaning the very institutions they are appointed to lead and fueling mistrust by promoting false narratives about the criminal-justice system and law enforcement," Rosen wrote. "The prosecutors are essentially flipping the script, casting criminals as victims and police as villains. This distortion is not only demoralizing to law enforcement but also emboldens hostility toward both the rule of law and those entrusted with enforcing it."

And in September 2020, Rosen published an op-ed in the New York Post that was also posted on the official website of the Department of Justice, this one defending qualified immunity for police officers, arguing that it's unfair that the public can sue police officers for "excessive force" infractions: "Police officers must be able to respond decisively and responsibly. When a bad guy is threatening to slash innocents on a sidewalk with a knife, officers don't have time to analyze legal memos."

Rosen is just the latest Trump appointee to deny the existence of racial bias in the justice system.

"I don't agree that there's systemic racism in police departments generally, in this country," Barr said in July after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.

Only 13.4% of the general population is Black, yet approximately 42% of those on federal death row are. As the Trump administration carries out a string of federal executions, including killing two Black men in the past week, with two more scheduled to be executed before Biden's inauguration, Rosen's positions on issues of race raise concerns.

One anonymous Justice Department prosecutor told NPR that he fears Rosen is just another Trump yes-man, saying, "I think he is more prone to agree with the White House and do what the White House counsel wants. I think he'll be more of a loyal trooper to the White House, where Barr is more his own man."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.