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Archive for Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Civil rights nominee’s commitment questioned

December 8, 2004

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— A Kansas City attorney long at odds with the civil rights establishment is President Bush's choice to chair the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Gerald Reynolds, a black conservative who was assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education early in the Bush administration but never won Senate confirmation to the post, would replace Mary Frances Berry as head of the bipartisan, independent commission. The commission historically highlights the need for civil rights enforcement but has no enforcement powers. Its members aren't subject to Senate confirmation.

Reynolds said he considers education the key issue in civil rights and hoped the commission would focus on how young blacks could expand their opportunities through education.

"In some communities, young black boys won't walk around with books because they'll be ridiculed," Reynolds said. "I want to address that situation."

Supporters of Reynolds, 41, say they think he will take civil rights in a more modern direction.

"The obstacles facing African-Americans today are not problems of discrimination, but of not seizing opportunities that are available," said Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank where Reynolds once worked. "It makes sense to have someone who's younger, who can look at issues with a fresh eye."

But several civil rights leaders questioned Reynolds' ties to the Bush administration and his commitment to civil rights enforcement.

William Taylor, the chairman of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, called Reynolds' appointment "the death of the agency as an independent force and a fair fact-finder in civil rights."

Nancy Zir-kin, deputy director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said Reynolds had "showed antipathy toward programs that encourage and protect equal opportunity."

Reynolds' critics base their concern on his record at the Education Department.

During Reynolds' tenure, the Bush administration appointed a commission to consider changes to Title IX, the federal law guaranteeing women equal access to educational and athletic opportunities. Some had complained that the law led to cuts in men's athletic programs. After public outcry, the administration backed off and no changes were made.

"Reynolds was one of the officials who by his public statements and his actions were committed to undoing Title IX athletic policies in very serious ways," said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president of the National Women's Law Center.

Reynolds said then that the level of support for Title IX surprised him.

Reynolds was also a key player in the Bush administration's decision to oppose the use of race in college admissions. The Supreme Court upheld the use of race as an admissions factor last year. Afterward, Reynolds' Education Department office issued a booklet suggesting race-neutral alternatives for colleges and universities to consider, which civil rights advocates said only sowed confusion.

Prior to his Education Department appointment, Reynolds was a regulatory attorney for Kansas City Power & Light Co. He had been president of the Center for New Black Leadership and a legal analyst for the Center for Equal Opportunity.

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