Thomas Gallatin / July 22, 2021

Biden’s DOE Nominee Threatens Student Due Process Rights

She was responsible for the infamous “Dear Colleague” letter that uncut the standard of innocent until proven guilty.

Joe Biden is looking to erode students’ due process rights after Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, successfully worked to restore them. Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department is Catherine Lhamon, who held the same position during Barack Obama’s presidency. It was Lhamon who was responsible for producing the infamous 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that significantly reduced the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.

Lhamon argued that the judicial standard of innocent until proven guilty should not apply within the college and university setting, as trials there are not criminal proceedings. The results of this dubious and dangerous directive were several instances of falsely accused students successfully suing schools for violating their civil right to due process.

In her recent hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Lhamon was pressed by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as to her views on the standard of innocent until proven guilty. Her response clearly indicated that her views haven’t changed over the last four years. “There isn’t a presumption of innocence in the existing Title IX regulation,” she answered. “My view is that civil rights investigators, investigators at schools, need to start from the presumption that the facts are what they are. … They shouldn’t be assuming somebody is guilty because a person has been accused. … They should be open to the possibility that the person is not [guilty].”

That’s turning the U.S. standard of justice regarding the accused entirely on its head. One should be “open to the possibility” an accused person is not guilty? What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? While Lhamon obfuscated and refused to say what she would seek to change, she made it clear in a social media post what she thought of DeVos’s Title IX rule change that restored basic due process rights to students. She lamented that it was a return “to the bad old days, that predate my birth, when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.”

That’s a flat-out lie that serves to disparage the notion of a balanced and fair system of justice, as well as the nation she’s ostensibly supposed to serve.

Should Lhamon return to her previous position of power, she will undoubtedly seek to undo the progress made under DeVos and reinsert her own deeply flawed and unjust standards, reestablishing college kangaroo courts that resulted in a slew of deserved lawsuits. But more disconcerting is the attempt to spread the poisonous notion that due process rights are somehow inadequate and unjust. If this idea takes hold in America’s colleges and universities, it won’t take long for it spread beyond, eventually infecting our criminal legal system.

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