Standing up for the urgent and critical need for racial justice initiatives at all levels of government, the City of Seattle and Public Rights Project filed on Thursday an amicus curiae brief on behalf of a nationwide coalition of local governments in support of a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s Executive Order 13950, which attempts to ban the use of comprehensive diversity trainings by federal contractors. The brief, joined by 20 local governments, urges the federal district court for the Northern District of California to block enforcement of the Executive Order, the latest stage of the Trump Administration’s all-out assault on an anti-racist vision for the future of the United States.
“Combatting systemic discrimination and racism has been central to Seattle City government’s operations for well over a decade, which has helped retain and build a thriving workforce in service of our communities,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “A federal injunction is imperative to stop this ‘reverse discrimination’ effort and to send a strong message to those who might try again in the future. I’m proud to team with the Public Rights Project and our fellow cities as we continue to strive for a more just and equitable society.”
The Executive Order, which was issued on September 22, 2020, requires contractors to strip such “divisive concepts” as systemic racism and unconscious bias from their diversity trainings or face cancellation of their government contracts. The Executive Order also sets the stage for enforcement against entities that receive federal grant money, including local governments, by requiring federal agency heads to review their grant programs with an eye toward conditioning grant money on the elimination of comprehensive diversity trainings.
As argued in the brief, the Executive Order was issued after months of national demonstrations against and reckoning with racial injustice, police violence against unarmed black people, and systems of power that perpetuate endemic inequality. That context makes the intent of the Executive Order clear: to financially punish those who are trying to remedy structural racism and overcome white supremacy through intentional and purposeful training and other programming. Anyone receiving federal funds is left with a choice of foregoing the funds, which is often crucial to the operation of these organizations, or censoring their speech.
“The Executive Order tries to punish our community partners for speaking the truth about the lived experiences of people of color and trying to explain the systems that have create racial oppression in America,” said Jon Miller, Legal Director of Public Rights Project. “We must have these conversations and these trainings to overcome centuries of injustice. We are proud to stand with the City of Seattle and our other partners to fight this harmful and unconstitutional Executive Order.”
The brief also highlights the many ways diversity trainings benefit the operations of local governments. They aid the diversification of municipal workforces and enhance the cultural competence of those providing services directly to the community. Diversity trainings, which are tailored to meet the needs and address the issues of each jurisdiction, empower local governments with the tools to engage with those they represent. They also help advance local governments’ inward-facing organizational goals and efforts to comply with anti-discrimination laws.
A broad coalition of local jurisdictions joined the City of Seattle and Public Rights Project in filing the brief. The 20 signatories are: City of Austin, Texas; City of Boulder, Colorado; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; City of Chicago, Illinois; City of Cincinnati, Ohio; Cook County, Illinois; City of Dayton, Ohio; City of Iowa City, Iowa; King County, Washington; Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; City of Oakland, California; City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; City of Portland, Oregon; City of Sacramento, California; City of Saint Paul, Minnesota; City of Somerville, Massachusetts; City of Tempe, Arizona; City of West Hollywood, California.
The brief, which can be accessed here, was filed in support for plaintiffs’ motion for a nationwide preliminary injunction filed in Santa Cruz Lesbian and Gay Community Center v. Trump, No. 5:20-CV-07741-BLF (N.D. Cal). The case was brought by Lambda Legal.