Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Washington UPDATE: Lee May Be Given A Recess Appointment

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Washington UPDATE: Lee May Be Given A Recess Appointment

Article excerpt

Washington UPDATE: Lee May Be Given A Recess Appointment

Despite Senate Republican opposition, Bill Lann Lee may still become assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights, if only on a temporary basis.

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 rights division.

"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 appointment.

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. …

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