Another Wolf Guarding The Henhouse

If nothing else George Bush Jr.’s recess appointment of Gerald Reynolds as assistant secretary of education for civil rights proved that he is a good student of history. A decade ago George Bush, Sr. ignited one of the most bruising, and ugly confirmation hearings in living memory when he nominated hyper-black conservative, Clarence Thomas to succeed Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. Civil rights, women, and abortion rights groups stormed the confirmation hearings and filled the airwaves with sledgehammer assaults on Thomas for his retrograde turn-back-the-clock stance on civil rights, civil liberties, abortion rights, and his barely literate reading of Constitutional law.

Thomas was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmed by the Senate by the squeakiest of votes. Thomas has turned out to be an even more terrifying nightmare than even his fiercest opponents imagined. His Neanderthal votes on prisoner rights, the death penalty, affirmative action, and school prayer have often been the deciding vote in many recent 5 to 4 court decisions. As for Bush Sr., the Thomas debacle hopelessly tarnished his political star and earned him the eternal damnation of civil rights leaders. The recess appointment of Reynolds was Bush Jr.’s back door ploy to avoid the same political embarrassment that befell his father. Reynolds will serve in the post until the current Senate ends its term in 2003. The original idea behind the recess appointment was to give presidents a tool to get top officials into vital departments and offices during periods when Congress was out of session and unable to approve presidential appointments on a timely basis.

While Senator Ted Kennedy and other Democrats slammed Bush for the Reynold’s appointment, it’s hardly the first time a president has made a recess appointment in order to slip his ideological clones and pals into office when Congress is out of session. During his one term, Jimmy Carter made 68 recess appointments, and Bush Sr. made 77 during his term. Reagan topped the list with a whopping 243 appointments during his two terms. But it was Clinton’s 56 recess appointment, especially the appointment of Bill Lann Lee to run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, that had Republican conservatives frothing. They accused Clinton of mocking the Constitutional process by appointing liberal activists to government positions.

In the case of Reynolds, civil rights groups would have waged the same battle royal over his confirmation. Reynolds is a former staff counsel and board member of the hard-core right Center for New Black Leadership. This is the Washington D.C. outfit that claims personal responsibility, and free market solutions are the solutions to discrimination and rails against civil rights leaders for promoting “racial victimization.”

He’s also a former legal analyst for the even harder-core right Center for Equal Opportunity. The CEO, founded in 1995 by notorious liberal baiter Linda Chavez, describes itself as the “premier voice” opposing affirmative action, bi-lingual education, and immigration reform. It has ferociously opposed vigorous enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities law, even urging Congress to narrow (i.e. gut the law). The instant Bush told the Senate in September 2001 that he intended to nominate Reynolds, more than two dozen civil rights, women, and disabled groups screamed foul.

And with good reason, Reynolds will oversee the Education Dept’s Office of Civil Rights. This is the unit responsible for ensuring that school districts, colleges and universities comply with civil rights laws. Unlike the close-mouthed, taciturn Clarence Thomas, Reynolds has publicly ranted against affirmative action and the ADA law. Nearly 60 percent of all discrimination complaints are for violations of the disability rules. Reynolds has called the ADA a bad law that “would retard economic development in urban centers across the country.”

In a 1997 Washington Times op-ed piece he slammed affirmative action as “a corrupt system of preferences, set aside and quotas against affirmative action, and branded civil rights leaders, “the civil rights industry.” In a 1999 op-ed piece in the San Jose Mercury News, he harangued Jesse Jackson as a “race hustler” for leading a discrimination fight against Silicon Valley computer corporations. At a February 26 hearing, Ted Kennedy openly questioned his credentials to head the civil rights office and called his appointment a disaster for civil rights enforcement.

But Bush’s deft move has rendered Kennedy’s gripe a mute point. Reynolds is now in office and civil rights and disability rights advocates must keep a hawk-like vigilance over Reynolds actions to insure that he isn’t the total disaster for civil rights that Kennedy fears he’ll be. Meanwhile, Bush has served notice that he will do what other presidents have done and use recess appointments to get whom he wants in office, regardless of whether it angers civil rights groups and Democrats. The next time he makes such an appointment, and there will almost certainly be a next time, civil rights groups must quickly blow the warning whistle before it’s too late.

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