Despite Senate Republican opposition, Bill Lann Lee may still become
assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights, if only on a
The Clinton administration is considering a recess appointment for
Lee, which means he could serve for at least one year and possibly two
depending on the timing of the appointment, experts say. Under the U.S.
Constitution, presidents can make such appointments when Congress is in
recess for an extended period of time.
The House and Senate adjourned in mid-November and will not return until late January.
“It’s up to Bill Lee if he wants to pursue it,” one civil rights
advocate said of the recess appointment. If the president appoints Lee
before Jan. 1, he likely would serve only until the end of 1998, said a
congressional aide who specializes in legal issues.
A presidential appointment during a recess next year conceivably
could keep Lee in the job through 1999, though the issue would require
some legal review, he said. Recess appointments are rare because they
often anger the Senate, whose job is to pass judgment on hundreds of
judicial and executive nominations each year.
Meanwhile, civil-rights groups said Senate Republicans erred in
rejecting Lee’s nomination to head the U.S. Justice Department’s civil
“The Senate committed a grave injustice by not confirming Bill Lann
Lee,” said a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education
Fund, where Lee served as Western regional director prior to his
The Senate Judiciary Committee had planned to reject Lee’s
nomination in mid-November, effectively denying the full Senate a
chance to vote for or against confirmation. Senate Democrats then
invoked a motion to prevent a committee vote in hopes of bringing the
nomination back next year.
Controversy about California’s Proposition 209 and efforts to roll
back affirmative action in higher education are two reasons Senate
Republicans rallied against President Bill Clinton’s nominee.
“The assistant attorney general must be America’s civil rights law
enforcer, not the civil rights ombudsman for the political left,” said
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Hatch specifically criticized Lee for making a complaint to the U.S.
Education Department about the University of California’s efforts to
eliminate affirmative action in admissions. His opposition to the
nominee triggered a war of words with the White House about what
Republicans wanted in exchange for giving their support to Lee.
For his part, Hatch said on November 4 that he offered the
administration an “olive branch” on the nomination: give up opposition
to Proposition 209 to help gain support for Lee. The only concession
from the administration was that Lee offered to recuse himself from
administration deliberations on Proposition 209, according to Hatch.
The Clinton administration earlier this year filed a brief
supporting efforts to declare Proposition 209 unconstitutional,
although the U.S. Supreme Court recently said it will not review the
California ballot initiative.
Lee received a confirmation hearing from Hatch’s panel late last
month, and the nominee drew strong endorsements both from civil rights
supporters and some of his one-time legal opponents on affirmative
action. But after support all but vanished from Republicans on the
committee, Senate Democrats delayed a committee vote on Lee’s
nomination earlier this month. At that time, they sought a second
public hearing on Lee to discuss the nominee’s public character, but
Hatch rejected the idea.
“Mr Lee’s integrity is not an issue in the committee’s consideration of this nominee,” Hatch wrote.
The civil rights job at the Justice Department has been open nearly a year, since the resignation of Deval Patrick last winter.
The Lee nomination was one of two hot-button civil rights issues in
Congress during early November. On the other side of Capitol Hill,
affirmative action supporters won a victory when the House Judiciary
Committee failed to act on a bill to roll back such programs.
At issue was the Civil Rights Act of 1997, legislation proposed by
Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.), which would ban the federal government
from using race and gender considerations in hiring, contracting, and
other federal programs. The bill has ninety-five House co-sponsors and
cleared a Judiciary subcommittee, chaired by Canady, earlier this year.
But Republicans could not muster enough support to hold a vote at a
full Judiciary Committee meeting November 6. Democrats and a small
cadre of Republicans led by Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.) proposed to table
the legislation without a vote, and the motion passed by a narrow
Canady blasted the inaction, saying, “The American people know that
you cannot end discrimination by practicing discrimination. Sooner or
later, the politicians in Washington will get the message.”
But congressional Democrats were ecstatic with the decision, and
civil rights groups gathered at the House hearing room for a possible
vote broke into a cheer after members voted to table the bill.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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