Lee Renominated to Civil Rights Post

By Scully, Sean | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

Lee Renominated to Civil Rights Post


Scully, Sean, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


President Clinton yesterday renominated Bill Lann Lee to be the nation's top civil rights official, ignoring fierce opposition in the Senate, which refused to confirm Mr. Lee in 1997 because of his support for racial preferences.

Approving Mr. Lee as head of the Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights would "allow him to implement unconstitutional policies such as quotas which give preference to one group at the expense of another," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, in a written statement.

Mr. Hatch hinted that he would not allow a new round of hearings on Mr. Lee, saying "the Senate has already considered his nomination for this position."

But ranking committee Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont hailed the renewed nomination and called on Republicans to "stop obstructing and stalling his confirmation."

After contentious hearings in 1997, the Judiciary Committee split 9-9 on Mr. Lee's nomination, which died without a vote by the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, had no comment yesterday on whether he would allow a vote on Mr. Lee's renomination.

Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. insisted yesterday that the administration is not trying to provoke a fight with Republicans.

"It's not a poke in the eye; it's really a request that people give this man a fair opportunity, give him a fair shake," Mr. Holder said. "And I think if that is done, he will be quickly confirmed."

Mr. Lee has been serving as "acting" head of the office for more than a year, which many lawmakers say is unconstitutional because it undermines the Senate's "advise-and-consent" power on important presidential nominations.

Long-standing federal law limits "acting" officials to serving 120 days. Mr. Clinton, like previous presidents of both parties, however, argues that the Justice Department is exempt from the 120-day limit.

Infuriated lawmakers passed a bill last year making clear that the Justice Department is subject to the 120-day limit on acting officials, but Mr. Clinton now argues that Mr. Lee was appointed under the old rules and can therefore remain "acting" director as long as he likes.

In refusing to confirm Mr. Lee the first time he was nominated, Senate Republicans said he consistently ignores Supreme Court decisions that made racial preferences illegal and that he argues for federal policies based on racial classifications.

"We're disappointed because we think this country could be better served by sending the nomination of someone who will interpret civil rights laws as protecting all Americans equally, rather than protecting some Americans more than others," said Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposed Mr. Lee's original nomination.

Senate Democrats vowed to push for new hearings and a vote on the Senate floor.

"I must say that it appears to me that those that are aligned against Bill Lann Lee, their problem is not with Bill Lann Lee, but it is with the Supreme Court of the United States or with the laws of the United States," said Sen. …

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