- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

In an administration with a penchant for politicizing every federal department, commission, agency, bureau and service, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which is headed by Mary Frances Berry, stands out for its particularly flagrant politicization. Known for being a managerial nightmare a 1998 General Accounting Office report concluded the agency was in "disarray" and had failed to accomplish its mission the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has now clumsily interjected itself into both the presidential race and the contest for the U.S. Senate in New York.

As Dave Boyer of The Washington Times has reported, Miss Berry conducted a "poll vote" on April 6 among the eight-member commission, which includes six Democrats and two Republicans. The poll vote, which was abruptly and secretly conducted one week before the commission's regular monthly meeting, was politically timed to precede a scheduled court hearing in Tallahassee on a lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People challenging Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to end racial preferences. Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh, one of the panel's two Republican members, told Mr. Boyer, "The poll vote is being used in this instance to keep any discussion or dissent off the public record."

Ending with a predictable 6-2 margin, Miss Berry's snap poll vote only the second or third such vote to be conducted in the past five years approved a 10-page statement that harshly criticized the university-admissions programs in Florida, Texas and California.

In Texas, a court ruling in a federal lawsuit outlawed the state's collegiate racial perferences. Voters in California approved Proposition 209, which terminated the race-based admissions policies of the University of California system. Last November Florida Gov. Bush issued an executive order implementing his state's new admissions policy in an effort to preempt a California-style referendum, which would have almost certainly been approved, thus ending the state's traditional racial set-asides.

The Civil Rights Commission directed most of its venom toward Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, presumably because he unilaterally implemented his state's new program without being ordered to do so by a judge or voters. Miss Berry and her Democratic colleagues, including Christopher Edley, who is an adviser to Vice President Al Gore's campaign, also lambasted Florida Gov. Bush for his voucher program, which, before it was declared unconstitutional by a state judge, would have served as a lifeline for minority students otherwise condemned to the state's worst performing public schools.

The Civil Rights Commission also planned to target New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the likely Republican opponent of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the New York Senate contest, for his handling of police matters. The panel delayed issuing its political smear job only after Mr. Giuliani demanded that Miss Berry, who has contributed $250 to Mrs. Clinton, follow the federal law that requires the commission to give a draft of a report to all parties that might be "defamed or degraded" for review and comment.

Considering the politicized state of Miss Berry's commission, whose "bipartisan" condition is now clearly suffering a far worse fate than merely being in "disarray," Congress should immediately address the deteriorating situation not only through its oversight functions but also through its hold on the purse strings.

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