Wash. Times Attacks DOJ For Enforcing The Law With Anti-Bullying Initiative

Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

In a Washington Times piece, Kerry Picket criticized the Department of Justice for saying that its Civil Rights Division is "committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools" and for highlighting its "authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes."

Echoing The Washington Times piece, a National Review Online blog post also attacked the Justice Department's initiative on bullying.

What's wrong with the department's anti-bullying initiative? If harassment rises to the level of a civil rights violation, shouldn't the Department of Justice step in to do something about it?

Not according to Picket. Picket writes that there is a "catch" to what the Department of Justice is doing. It is only targeting some types of bullying, and not dealing with the scenario in which an "overweight straight white male who is verbally and/or physically harassed because of his size."

But here's the thing. If a person is harassed "because of his size," and his size alone, the Justice Department does not have the power to step in. And it's irrelevant whether the victim is straight, gay, or bisexual or white, Asian, black, or Native American. In this context, the Department of Justice enforces civil rights laws, and there is no current civil rights law dealing with discrimination on the basis of weight. On the other hand, if the white male were being bullied because of his race or gender, there may be a role for the Justice Department.

Perhaps law professor David Bernstein at the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog put it best: Picket's piece "seems like a cheap rhetorical trick-trying to insinuate that the administration has something against 'straight white males' when the administration is simply staying within the limits of its legal authority."

From Bernstein's post:

Discrimination based on size or weight is not barred by federal law, so the federal Department of Justice has no business investigating such discrimination.

This op-ed seems like a cheap rhetorical trick-trying to insinuate that the administration has something against "straight white males" when the administration is simply staying within the limits of its legal authority (and not to mention that discrimination based on being white or male would, in fact, be subject to DOJ investigation-and discrimination based on sexual orientation is not, regardless of whether the subject is gay or straight).

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