Capitol Alert

Harmeet Dhillon, California Republican leader, a candidate for Justice Department post

Harmeet Dhillon covers her hair as she conducts the invocation during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016.
Harmeet Dhillon covers her hair as she conducts the invocation during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19, 2016. TNS

Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco trial attorney and one of California’s three members of the Republican National Committee, is a contestant for a pivotal role in the Trump administration leading the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Dhillon, 48, recently interviewed for the position in Washington, according to a source with knowledge of the discussion. Reached late Thursday, Dhillon declined comment.

Dhillon has emerged as an outspoken leader of the deeply outnumbered California Republican Party since becoming its vice chair in 2013.

Last summer, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, she opened the second night by delivering a Sikh prayer in Punjabi before now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally nominated Trump, calling him “a warrior and a leader.”

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, founded 60 years ago, enforces federal laws barring discrimination. It’s unclear who else might be up for the post, which is being closely watched given Sessions’ record and statements about states’ rights and religious freedom.

Following the presidential election, Dhillon said she believed there was validity to Trump’s concerns about improper voting.

The president, without citing evidence, had listed California, along with Virginia and New Hampshire, as states where large numbers of illegal votes denied him a popular vote victory. California has not done enough to protect against people fraudulently registering or casting ballots, Dhillon said at the time, including not requiring voters to show identification.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, certifying the Nov. 8 election, rejected unproven allegations from President-elect Donald Trump of voter fraud and complaints from Bernie Sanders supporters before the June primary.

A graduate of Dartmouth College and University of Virginia School of Law, Dhillon was born in Chandigarh, in northern India, and with her family emigrated to England and then Bronx, N.Y. She grew up in rural North Carolina.

Dhillon has represented persecuted Sikhs and served on the board of the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She’s warned about government surveillance and shared her belief that gay couples should receive the same tax benefits as straight ones.

A legal newspaper chronicled her work on behalf of Yelp in intellectual property disputes and against Comcast for a consumer complaint.

She also has come to the side of the GOP in numerous legal skirmishes, including a federal lawsuit alleging that an independent spending group unlawfully used the party’s trademarked elephant logo on mailers during a legislative race. Terms of the settlement were kept confidential.

Last year, Dhillon helped more than a dozen Trump supporters bring a civil rights lawsuit contending police officers in San Jose did not protect them from violent, egg-hurling protesters after a June 2 campaign rally. She happened to have opened up the event at the San Jose Convention Center by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

Though she hasn’t held elected office, Dhillon ran for the state Assembly in 2008 against Tom Ammiano, finishing well behind the liberal Democrat but far outperforming her party’s low registration.

She led the GOP in San Francisco before taking on the state post, and was elected a Republican National Committeewoman in May.

President Donald Trump said he has 'total' confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while speaking aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford in Newport News, Va. Sessions came under fire for not disclosing his contact with the Russian ambas

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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