- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The White House last night swore in President Bush's appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, setting up a confrontation today with a Clinton-era appointee who is refusing to relinquish her seat.
Peter Kirsanow was sworn in by District Superior Judge Maurice Ross in a hastily arranged ceremony in the West Wing office of White House Counsel Al Gonzales. He plans to attend a commission meeting this morning and take the seat still occupied by Victoria Wilson, even though her term expired Nov. 29.
"He will arrive there to attend his first meeting," White House spokeswoman Anne Womack told The Washington Times. "We'll see what happens."
Miss Wilson also plans to attend the meeting and occupy her old seat with the full backing of commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry. On Tuesday, Miss Berry told Mr. Gonzales she would refuse to swear in Mr. Kirsanow and said federal marshals will be needed to seat him.
"I have no plan to do anything but carry on the meeting. This is a legal matter that ought to be resolved in the courts," Miss Berry told the Associated Press yesterday.
The White House moves are "about muzzling us, and it's scary to have them take all of this time and energy," Miss Berry said. "It makes me even more afraid for the preservation of the commission."
The White House did not plan to send in federal marshals because it did not want to add to the growing circus atmosphere. But the threat prompted White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to accuse Miss Berry of racial divisiveness.
"Particularly coming from the Civil Rights Commission, that is exactly the wrong approach a nation that needs racial healing needs to hear," Mr. Fleischer said in response to questions from The Times.
"This is inflammatory rhetoric for a commission whose mission has to be to bring people together," he added. "It's not in the public interest for public officials to engage in that type of bellicose language."
The White House said Miss Berry will be breaking the law if she tries to keep Miss Wilson on the commission at the meeting this morning in Washington.
"This is akin to people saying because they believe in Bill Clinton, he should be allowed to serve after January 20, 2001," Mr. Fleischer said. "The law is clear, the dates are certain, and it's important on all in the government to honor those commitments in a nation that is guided by the rule of law."
The panel last night received a letter from the Justice Department telling Miss Berry that she cannot retain outside legal help without the attorney general's permission. Miss Berry said she will fight that directive as well.
Earlier this week, Miss Berry said she does not consider herself or the commission answerable to Mr. Bush.
"She said that she would refuse to seat any new people appointed by President Bush," Mr. Fleischer said. "She further said that the only way that she will let this person be seated is if the United States marshals show up and force her to do so."
Sources close to the panel said last night that they believe Miss Berry will fail to recognize Mr. Kirsanow at the meeting today and will attempt to address the agenda with Miss Wilson casting votes.
"Mary Frances Berry will ask her general counsel for a ruling and, of course, he will rule in her favor, and that will be that. Or that's what they believe," said one commission staffer.
Miss Wilson was appointed by Mr. Clinton on Jan. 13, 2000, to fill an unexpired, six-year term that ended Nov. 29. She now says she told the White House personnel office at the time of her appointment that she intended to serve six years of her own, not leaving until 2006.
But records from the Clinton White House, reviewed by The Times, show that Miss Wilson's term was always scheduled to end this year.
That conclusion was confirmed by a legal opinion by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
"In our view, the 1994 amendments maintained the systematically staggered terms of Commissioner members," said a Dec. 4 letter to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Starting in 1983, Congress limited the panelists' terms to six years and staggered them so that no one party could stack the commission. The statute also provided that "any member appointed to fill a vacancy shall serve for the remainder of the term for which his predecessor was appointed."
When the commission was reauthorized in 1994, that part of the statute was left out.
But the Justice Department this week noted that "there is nothing in the legislative history that suggests that this deletion was intended to effect a substantive change."
Mr. Fleischer said, "A new six-year appointment on the Civil Rights Commission would be exactly contrary to the laws that govern the Civil Rights Commission that require a staggering of the period of time when somebody is on the commission."
"Otherwise, if you could have people step down and then appoint new people to a new six-year term, you could game the Civil Rights Commission so that a president could appoint six people of his own choosing to serve new six-year terms," he added.
Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, who has been Miss Berry's most outspoken critic on the eight-member panel since being appointed in January, promised that today's meeting will be "theater."
"Mary Frances Berry has an opportunity to restore integrity to this body as a bipartisan civil rights commission. This is in Mary Frances Berry's interest. When it becomes 4-4, she will have a chance to show that she can work with those who disagree with her. She is misreading her own best interests."
Republican lawmakers are already backing the president.
"This controversy could do severe harm to the reputation of the Civil Rights Commission," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah on the Senate floor yesterday. "As if the American people did not have enough drama in their lives, we hardly need something like this to further erode the public's confidence in the Civil Rights Commission."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide