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Trump Administration Appoints Roger Severino to Head Office for Civil Rights

March 24, 2017
by Heather Landi
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Roger Severino, who previously served as the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, has been appointed as the director of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

OCR enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination by health care and human services providers that receive funds from HHS and also protects the privacy and security of health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

According to the HHS website, Severino holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, received a master’s degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon University, and has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Southern California.

Before joining Heritage in 2015, Severino was a trial attorney for seven years in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division where he enforced the Fair Housing Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and Title II and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to HHS.

“He has litigated cases under sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, and familial status discrimination and served as the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section's E-discovery officer as well as attorney advisor to the fair housing testing program,” the HHS bio of Severino stated.

Severino also was previously chief operations officer and legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Severino’s background is primarily in the field of law and religious liberty. According to Politico, Severino has written several articles opposing abortion, Planned Parenthood and other culture-war topics. “Most pertinently for OCR, he's argued the Obama administration's regulations on gender identity ‘threaten the religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and independent medical judgment of health care professionals’,” Politico reporters wrote.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, voiced concerns about the appointment in a public statement. In the statement, Henderson wrote, “The Office for Civil Rights at HHS is essential to ensuring that all people can lead healthy lives, free of discriminatory barriers. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination based on race, sex, disability and age in health programs and activities, is key to achieving this goal. Strong and experienced leadership at OCR committed to fully enforcing Section 1557 is therefore critical. Mr. Severino is not that leader.

Henderson further wrote, “Since enactment of the ACA seven years ago today, members of The Leadership Conference have strongly advocated for the full and complete implementation of Section 1557. In his previous position at the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Severino repeatedly denounced and actively worked to oppose OCR’s implementation of Section 1557. These actions call into question his ability to fully enforce the ACA and protect communities of color and other underserved populations, who are most at risk for unequal access to health and health care.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) issued a statement March 23 denouncing Severino’s appointment to head OCR. Murray, who is a ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in her statement that the appointment “speaks volumes to [the Trump Administration’s] broader failure to uphold and protect civil rights, particularly when it comes to the LGBTQ community.” “Secretary Price has an obligation to fight discrimination in all lifesaving programs administered by the Department and to ensure that political appointees and career employees are truly committed to carrying out the responsibilities of the agency to protect and serve all Americans—and I will do everything I can to make sure he is held accountable,” Murray wrote.

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