- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Another conflict is taking shape at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, where a new vacancy on the eight-member panel will be filled by congressional Democrats.
Congressional sources speaking on the condition of anonymity say that although long-standing tradition and courtesy would give Republicans their choice in the appointment, the bitter fight in Congress over appointments will affect the naming of the new commissioner.
The Democrat-led commission, which last week defied a White House order to seat a new appointee, is seen by some Republicans as fighting to save its 5-3 majority. That majority has been accused by Republicans of using investigative reports for partisan ends and for the iron hand of Chairman Mary Frances Berry, a declared political independent who has contributed $19,000 to Democratic causes since 1992.
The newest conflict at the commission involves the reappointment of Republican appointee Russell Redenbaugh, whose second six-year term on the commission ends today.
His future is the call of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. Although custom holds that it is the Republicans' turn to name a commissioner, sources both on Capitol Hill and surrounding the commission say Mr. Daschle is being pressured not to heed that courtesy and instead help keep a Democratic majority on the panel.
Mr. Redenbaugh met with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott's office in late September, pushing for reappointment. But the Mississippi Republican hasn't made a move on the matter, and some Republicans around the commission are afraid that inside political machinations are already moving to get rid of Mr. Redenbaugh in favor of a Democrat.
"I understand that some contend that it is Daschle's to make, which is contrary to practice," Mr. Redenbaugh said. "And I think Senator Lott will be very irritated when he hears [this]."
On the commission, four seats are filled by presidential nomination and four by congressional appointment. For the latter four picks, the parties customarily alternate choices, although the final say is formally in the hands of the Senate majority leader.
Neither Mr. Daschle's office nor Mr. Lott's returned calls for comment.
The uncertainly over Mr. Redenbaugh's seat comes amid a contentious battle over whether commissioner Victoria Wilson's term is valid until 2006. She was appointed in 2000 by President Clinton to fill the term of a departed commissioner. Counsel for both the Justice Department and the White House say that such members serve only to fill out the original panelist's term.
Miss Berry and the commission's legal staff say the statute says only that each appointee serves six years. If the final court determination lets Miss Wilson stay, there would remain a Democrat-leaning majority on the commission.
But a new Democratic appointment would make the fate of Miss Wilson's seat moot.
Mr. Daschle made the last appointment of Democrat Elsie Meeks in 1999, when he was Senate minority leader.
"Realistically, [Democrats] can do whatever they want to do here," said Tripp Baird, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation and a former staffer in Mr. Lott's office. "And since Lott's no longer the majority leader, who gets to technically make the appointment is a question of procedural precedent."
A former commission employee said: "It means that the whole Victoria Wilson thing won't matter because if they wave a white flag on the Senate side, the whole thing is over."
One congressional source said there has been talk that Republicans are willing to sacrifice the commission appointment for something they perceive as more substantial.
The commission was created in 1957 with the intent of being a bipartisan, objective body. It now has a 75-person staff and a $9 million annual budget. Its agenda has been questioned in the last several years, however, because of the content and timing of several of its reports.
In 2000, the commission released a report criticizing efforts to end race-based college admissions in Florida and Texas. The report came during the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, who was governor of Texas at the time.
The commission also released a report highly critical of the New York Police Department last spring, just as a U.S. Senate battle between Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton looked imminent.
An investigation of last year's presidential election in Florida asserted that President Bush's victory there was attributable to a "pattern and practice of injustice" and discrimination against black voters.
The political feuding at the commission came to a head last week, when Miss Berry refused to acknowledge White House appointee Peter Kirsanow as a commissioner, referring to him as a "member of the audience."
Commission member Cruz Reynoso, a Democratic appointment, reaffirmed Sunday that in the past, the party of the appointer has alternated over the years.
"The law doesn't specify," Mr. Reynoso said. "But I believe that there is an informal agreement that each party will appoint one. I would assume that the Senate leadership would appoint whoever the Republican leadership designates."
Mr. Reynoso said that both his and Miss Berry's appointments were made by President Clinton as Republicans took control of Congress because "they were afraid the Republican leadership was not guided by that informal understanding."
A spokesman for Miss Berry said Sunday that the situation was "interesting" but that nothing has been decided from her end.

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