- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

It had been more than six months since President Bush selected Gerald A. Reynolds to be assistant secretary of education for civil rights, but Mr. Reynolds, the former president of the Center for New Black Leadership (CNBL), still had not received a vote on his nomination in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In fact, the committee, which is chaired by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, never managed to give Mr. Reynolds the consideration of a hearing until Feb. 26.

It should hardly be surprising, therefore, that Mr. Bush decided last week to elevate Mr. Reynolds in a recess appointment. Mr. Reynolds' official arrival at the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education cannot come a minute too soon. After all, his predecessor during the Clinton administration, Norma Cantu, was an overbearing activist who willfully disregarded court rulings.

It was particularly important for the president to act, given the highly politicized campaign that was being orchestrated against Mr. Reynolds. Once he was nominated, a slew of self-appointed guardians of civil-rights coalesced, determined to thwart the Senate's confirmation of a young conservative black attorney to the position that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once held. The usual suspects were involved, including the NAACP, People for the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Organization for Women, etc. However, after it became apparent that Mr. Reynolds would be confirmed by the entire Senate, Mr. Kennedy angled to defeat the nomination in his committee, just as the Senate Judiciary Committee had used a party-line vote to derail the appeals court nomination of Judge Charles Pickering.

When Mr. Reynolds explained at the committee's hearing on Feb. 26 that he intended to enforce existing civil-rights laws, Mr. Kennedy bellowed, "Don't pander to me." Subsequently, Mr. Kennedy, whose expulsion from Harvard for cheating did not preclude him from becoming chairman of the Senate committee responsible for education, audaciously declared that he was "struck by [Mr. Reynolds] lack of policy experience and his longstanding hostility to basic civil-rights laws."

Mr. Kennedy's partisan assertions nothwithstanding, Mr. Reynolds knew what he was talking about. As CNBL president, he told the committee, he focused on "the significant achievement gap between white and black students," arguing that "we need to expand the concept of civil rights so that it includes improving the quality of education for America's disadvantaged children."

"To limit an individual's education," Mr. Reynolds persuasively argued at his hearing, "is to limit his freedom." And he added, "A sound education is the fastest, and sometimes the only, way out of poverty." Now is the time for him to pursue the CNBL's innovative ideas, which members of the old guard have spent their careers blocking in order to preserve the failures of the status quo.

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