President Barack Obama has tapped veteran California civil rights attorney Catherine Lhamon to become the next Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education.
Lhamon has worked on groundbreaking educational equity cases during her 17-year career, including Williams v California, the class action lawsuit that resulted in the state being ordered to ensure that students in low-wealth schools had new textbooks, highly qualified teachers and safe and clean school buildings.
The Office for Civil Rights oversees and enforces implementation of laws prohibiting discrimination in education by sex, age, disability, race and ethnicity. The Office also investigates and resolves complaints and conducts its own investigations.
Lhamon is currently director of impact litigation at Public Counsel Law Center, a pro bono law firm based in Los Angeles that runs legal clinics and represents low-income clients in cases involving education, homelessness, children’s rights and immigrants’ rights.
Before joining Public Counsel in 2009, she worked for 10 years at the ACLU of Southern California as assistant legal director and director of the racial justice program. In 2004, California Lawyer magazine named Lhamon an Attorney for the Year for Civil Rights.
“Catherine Lhamon is a world-class attorney who never steps away from a challenge where our children’s futures are concerned. She is also a problem-solver who brings people together for better schools,” said Hernán D. Vera, Public Counsel president and CEO, in a written statement. “Thousands have benefited from her passionate pursuit of equality in areas of housing, employment and public safety. Civil rights is not a battle in the past, it is a fight for the future of our schools. America’s students, parents and educators could not have a stronger champion.”
Her nomination requires Senate confirmation. If approve, Lhamon would replace fellow California civil rights attorney Russlynn Ali, who held the post until December.