Office of Civil Rights Nominee Faces Scrutiny

Office of Civil Rights Nominee Faces Scrutiny

A Senate panel questioned a major Bush administration civil rights nominee in late February amid signs that leading civil rights groups oppose the nomination.
Gerald Reynolds is the White House choice to fill the vacant slot of assistant education secretary responsible for the department’s Office for Civil Rights. Reynolds, an African American, served as president and legal counsel for the Center for New Black Leadership, a conservative group. He also served as legal analyst for another conservative organization, the Center for Equal Opportunity. His private sector experience includes senior counsel at Kansas City Power and Light.
But Reynolds’ past statements on civil rights enforcement are drawing criticism from many liberal-leaning organizations. People for the American Way, a Washington-based organization, is urging groups to oppose the nomination, and the NAACP also is against his selection.
“Reynolds has consistently called for the elimination of a variety of programs that have helped racial and ethnic minorities, as well as women, the elderly and disabled Americans,” says Kweisi Mfume, NAACP’s president and chief executive officer. “It is inconceivable that a person with such strong convictions should be charged with implementing and protecting the laws for which he has shown such contempt.”
The NAACP is particularly concerned that Reynolds, if confirmed, would be responsible for enforcing many of the laws he already has criticized.
“Frankly, the NAACP finds Reynolds’ stated views on equal opportunity programs, such as affirmative action, to be appalling,” says Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington office.
But Reynolds outlined his support for civil rights in a recent appearance before Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“Racial discrimination and harassment have no place in our schools,” he said. The nominee also said he supported affirmative action programs that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Reiterating a phrase used by George W. Bush in his 2000 presidential campaign, Reynolds said he favored “affirmative access” to education and other services for all Americans.
“We need to expand the concept of civil rights so that it includes improving the quality of education for America’s disadvantaged children,” he said. On civil rights, he pledged to “vigorously enforce” laws already on the books to combat discrimination.
Education Secretary Roderick Paige praised Reynolds’ record.
 “Jerry Reynolds has the sound judgment, professionalism and legal experience required of an assistant secretary for civil rights. I know that Jerry will work tirelessly to ensure that our civil rights laws are enforced,” he says.
Paige also was critical of the long delays on Capitol Hill for Reynolds’ nomination. “Sadly, the office has had to operate for more than a year without an assistant secretary to provide it with strong, effective leadership,” he says. With more than 700 employees, the office is one of the department’s largest, he adds.
The nomination is before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The flap over Reynolds comes at a time when Senate Democratic leaders are giving increased scrutiny to some Bush administration legal and judicial appointments. Some Democrats are particularly vocal in their opposition to the nomination of U.S. Judge Charles Pickering to a federal appeals court. A Mississippi judge, Pickering faces criticism for his work in the segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s. A Senate vote on that nomination also is pending. 



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