- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

The chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yesterday denied President Bush's appointee Peter N. Kirsanow a vote on the panel.
Mary Frances Berry, chairman of the eight-member panel, said Clinton appointee Victoria Wilson is the rightful commissioner, even though her term expired Nov. 29.
"This issue will have to be decided ultimately by the courts," Miss Berry said at the outset of the meeting. Until then, though, she will refuse to acknowledge the appointment of Mr. Kirsanow to the commission. He was sworn in at the White House on Thursday evening.
Miss Berry referred to Mr. Kirsanow as "some member of the audience" and said that by obeying the law declared by the White House and the Justice Department that "we lose our independence."
Miss Berry and the legal staff of the commission dispute the statute under which commission appointments are now made. They believe that each appointment, whether to fill an unexpired slot or a brand new term, is to last six years.
Miss Wilson was appointed by President 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.
The Justice Department and White House contend that appointees to unexpired terms serve the duration of that term, which is then open to reappointment.
Commissioner Christopher Edley Jr. said the decision by the White House shows an "impulse to ignore the law for political purposes."
Mr. Kirsanow, a Cleveland labor attorney and former chairman of the conservative group New Black Leadership, sat 10 feet from Miss Wilson in the first row of the crowded conference room in the downtown YWCA where the commission meets monthly. He initially cast votes when a motion was made, but they were ignored by Miss Berry.
"I am disappointed and chagrined," Mr. Kirsanow said after the meeting. "It is ironic that one of the principal studies this commission has performed was on the right to vote," referring to the study on last year's presidential election battle in Florida.
Miss Wilson would not speak to reporters. "My lawyer will," she said.
Mr. Kirsanow arrived 30 minutes early for the meeting and was accompanied by a three-man legal team.
Miss Wilson arrived as the meeting started, and her attorney, prominent civil rights lawyer Leon Friedman, appeared shortly afterward.
Lawyers from both sides said they would allow the courts to settle the issue.
The commission's legal staff and its staff director, Les Jin, yesterday supported most of Miss Berry's contentions on the issue of the commissioner sea, assenting usually with a "yes, madam chair."
At stake for Miss Berry a staunch liberal is a Democratic majority on the panel.
With Miss Wilson in place, the Democrats hold a 5-3 edge. With Miss Wilson out and Mr. Kirsanow in, the panel is balanced at 4-4.
Miss Berry, who said this week that federal marshals would be needed to seat Mr. Kirsanow, told the panel that the White House asked that yesterday's meeting be cancelled.
"The opponents of civil rights will not stop their activities," Miss Berry said. "And so therefore, we will not stand down, and we will try to continue our work."
The commission's most comprehensive work this year has been a report on Florida's role in the 2000 presidential election. It disparaged the part played by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President Bush.
The report also called for a Justice Department investigation into the purported "disenfranchisement" of black voters because of faulty polling equipment and registration procedures.
Miss Berry yesterday introduced Jennifer Cabranes Braceras, Mr. Bush's non-controversial new appointee to the commission, who was attending her first meeting.
Miss Braceras' first act was to introduce Mr. Kirsanow as a new commissioner.
"You are out of order, commissioner," Miss Berry said, one of several times she would berate Miss Braceras during the meeting.
At another point, Miss Braceras asked that Mr. Kirsanow be allowed to present his credentials, an action that is standard for the seating of a new commissioner.
"You are out of order," Miss Berry said to Mr. Kirsanow, who stood and extended a manila envelope.
After the three-hour meeting, Miss Berry said audience members are not allowed to address the panel during a meeting.
"I would not allow anyone to come here and say, 'I'm a commissioner,' and let them present something when I know there are no vacancies," she said.
She added that the commission's counsel would attempt to get a judicial opinion on whether Miss Wilson is properly seated. Because any ruling is subject to emergency action, it could occur before the commission's next meeting on Jan. 11.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide