Education Department Nominee Facing Criticism in Senate
The Bush administration’s nominee for a senior Education Department post faces a rocky road to confirmation in the Senate because of his past opposition to affirmative action.
Brian Jones, past president of the Center for New Black Leadership, is Bush’s choice to become the Education Department’s general counsel, which plays a critical role in assessing legal issues at the department. If confirmed, Jones would work closely with the Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Justice Department on issues such as desegregation and educational equity.
At a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a leading civil rights organization announced its opposition to the nomination. “Mr. Jones is adamantly opposed to affirmative action, including affirmative action in higher education,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. In 1995 Senate testimony, Jones called on Congress “to eliminate affirmative action programs for women and minorities ‘root and branch,’ ” Henderson said.
“His positions on policies that are designed to advance equality of educational opportunity for all persons in our society are, to say the least, troubling,” the civil rights leader said.
But Jones used the Senate hearing to tell lawmakers that he would follow existing law, even if he disagreed personally with some statutes. “The law is what it is,” he said, pledging to “vigorously” support anti-discrimination and other civil rights laws.
Jones said he supports the same goals as major civil rights groups but disagrees on some of the means used to reach those objectives.
Despite some misgivings about affirmative action in higher education, Jones pledged to follow recent Supreme Court decisions that permit such preferences if they are to achieve a “compelling” national interest.
U.S. Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige also issued a statement supporting the nomination. “Brian Jones is extraordinarily well-qualified and well-suited” for the general counsel’s job, Paige said. Jones currently is an attorney with a San Francisco law firm. He served as president of the Center for New Black Leadership from 1995 to 1997; he also was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1997 to 1998.
Henderson, whose group represents more than 180 organizations, acknowledged it was unusual for the leadership conference to oppose an executive branch nomination but called the action justified. “His extreme views on civil rights enforcement, including enforcement that is the responsibility of the Department of Education, threatens a radical change in the department’s approach to issues of discrimination in every area — race, ethnicity, sex, disability and age — that should lead the committee to reject the nomination.”
A vote by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected in mid-September, an aide said. The panel is under Democratic control and chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
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