Bush Invokes Rare Process to Fill OCR Slot
Move draws criticism from nominee’s opponents
Proponents of affirmative action are criticizing President Bush for installing a new civil rights chief at the U.S. Department of Education without Senate confirmation.
Bush has invoked the rarely used recess appointment process to bring Gerald Reynolds into the administration as assistant education secretary in charge of the Office for Civil Rights. Reynolds was nominated for the job last June but faced strong opposition from many liberal organizations for his views on affirmative action and civil rights.
A Senate committee recently held a hearing to question Reynolds on his views, but it was unclear whether the committee — and the full Senate — actually would approve the nomination.
Because of that uncertainty, Bush appointed Reynolds to the job without Senate endorsement through a process known as a recess appointment. Such appointments can be made when Congress is out of session, and lawmakers were away for the Easter and Passover holidays.
Though rarely used, recess appointments are a valuable tool for presidents in certain situations where nominees face possible defeat in the Senate. Former President Bill Clinton used the recess appointment process to install Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department after the then-Republican controlled Senate outlined its opposition to the appointment.
Recess appointments generally are of short duration, however. In this case, Reynolds is permitted to serve only through the end of the current Congress this fall.
Reynolds has attracted opposition because of past statements opposing certain civil rights and affirmative action remedies. He also is past president of the Center for New Black Leadership, an organization critical of affirmative action and supportive of School Choice efforts such as vouchers. 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.
Even though Reynolds’ new appointment may be temporary, groups that opposed his nomination were angry at the president’s decision.
“A president is ordinarily entitled to deference in his choice of executive branch appointees. However, after careful review of Mr. Reynolds’ record, we concluded that his hostility to the laws and policies that he would be charged to enforce overcame this presumption for several reasons,” says Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Reynolds holds “extreme positions” on many civil rights issues and is “hostile to the use of affirmative action,” Henderson says.
Advocates say they believed Reynolds’ nomination was about to come up for a vote before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. However, the panel may have been deadlocked on the nomination, leaving Reynolds with an uncertain course for the future.
Reynolds also had come under criticism in a new report from the Citizen Commission on Civil Rights, which noted that the nominee is “on record as opposing major remedies the department employs in implementing civil rights laws.”
But Reynolds outlined his support for civil rights in a recent appearance before Kennedy and other members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“Racial discrimination and harassment have no place in our schools,” he told lawmakers, adding that he supported affirmative action programs consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Reiterating a phrase used by President Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign, Reynolds said he favored “affirmative access” to education and other services for all Americans.
In taking over OCR, Reynolds will oversee an office that monitors and investigates civil rights complaints at schools and colleges. The top post at OCR has been vacant for more than a year.
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