By Jeff Robbins
The Trump administration has lent some support to the old adage that even a busted watch will tell the time correctly twice a day, actually appointing someone eminently qualified to a high-ranking position in the U.S. Department of Education.
This may seem improbable, but it is true: Kenneth Marcus, president and director of the Washington, D.C.-based Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has been tapped to be the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.
This is a natural fit for Marcus, who was a Phi Beta Kappa at Williams College before earning his law degree at Berkeley — not exactly a training ground for Trump appointees.
Marcus is well-qualified for this position, having served the second Bush administration as its Department of Housing and Urban Development’s deputy assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. He was also the de facto head of the Department of Education’s civil rights office.
“With Marcus,” the Atlantic magazine recently stated, “the (Bush) administration started taking a stronger approach to enforcing civil rights laws.”
In that capacity and later as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Marcus was credited with energetically enforcing anti-discrimination measures.
His confirmation by the Senate would seem to be a shoo-in, but for one strange wild card. An expert on anti-Semitism — he has written and lectured widely on the subject — his nomination, predictably, has been bitterly criticized by the fringe and unhinged groups who operate something of an anti-Semitism lobby.
These include groups rabidly opposed to the existence of a Jewish national homeland, who fund and carry out efforts to scare the daylights out of pro-Israel students and faculty on American campuses, and whose hate speech can take on a hair-raising quality — even while they profess to be human rights activists.
Marcus’ work at the Brandeis Center has often brought him into conflict with this crowd, which has already begun to try to smear him.
Democrats in the Senate would do well not to fall for it. The impulse to decide that “the-appointee-of-my-enemy-is-my-enemy” may be tempting. But in the case of Ken Marcus, it is the wrong one.
Jeff Robbins, a U.S. delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in the Clinton administration, is a Boston attorney.