Posted on December 2, 2004

Leaders of Civil-Rights Watchdog Blast Bush

Alan Elsner, Reuters, Dec. 1

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Leaders of a divided federal civil-rights watchdog agency accused President Bush of deepening racial divisions, in a parting shot after years of sparring with his administration.

Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and Vice Chairperson Cruz Reynoso delivered a 166-page report to the White House harshly criticizing the administration for setting back race relations and failing to promote civil rights in any meaningful way.

But the report is not an official document, because four of the eight commissioners, all of them Republican appointees, voted against adopting it and rejected the charges as politically biased.

Both Berry and Reynoso are due to retire from the commission next month at the end of their six-year terms, giving Bush the chance to appoint their successors and shape a body more supportive of his policies.

“Sadly, the spiraling demise of hope for social justice and healing has deepened over the past four years, largely due to a departure from and marginalization of long-established civil rights priorities, practices and laws,” Berry and Reynoso wrote in a letter to Bush.

Peter Kirsanow, one of the four commissioners who voted against the report, said it was politically slanted, and based on shoddy research and faulty analysis.

“It started from the premise that the Bush administration was not sufficiently enforcing civil-rights law. When we examined it closely, we found it was deeply flawed in respect to its information, analysis and conclusions,” he said.

The White House said it would not comment on the content of the report because it was not an official commission document.

“There will be two vacancies come Jan. 5 and the President will move quickly to appoint two individuals who share his strong commitment to uphold civil rights for all Americans,” said spokeswoman Erin Healy.


A commission official said the newest report was effectively a last gasp, since Bush would be able to put his own appointee in charge. Berry is independent and Reynoso is a Democrat, and there are two other Democrats on the panel.

In the past four years, the panel has been a thorn in the administration’s side, issuing several reports on voter fraud and the alleged suppression of minority votes in the 2000 presidential election.

The commission had also refused to seat Kirsanow after Bush appointed him in 2001, but a federal appeals court ruled against the panel’s challenge.

The commission investigates civil-rights complaints and issues reports, but it has no enforcement powers. Its members are appointed, four by the White House and four by Congress.

The commission now has three Republicans and another independent, and it can have no more than four members of the same political party.

The report said Bush had not presented a focused civil rights agenda, and his public statements showed his commitment to the issue was limited.

“He does not speak frequently about civil rights policies, and usually when he does, it is in reference to his faith-based initiative, which . . . actually erodes such rights.

“He seems to place no value on including civil-rights leaders in policy discussions or soliciting input from anyone other than his own close circles, and even then only those who share his views,” the report said.