- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

The man President Bush has named to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said yesterday the cause of civil rights "has lost its ability to inspire."

Peter Kirsanow, a black Cleveland labor lawyer who was sworn in last month to fill a disputed vacancy, told an audience at the Heritage Foundation in Washington that there are myriad government agencies and independent efforts to ensure the civil rights of everyone.

"But while we are protecting groups, we are not protecting individuals," Mr. Kirsanow said. "None of us enjoys civil rights unless all are given equal protection."

Mr. Kirsanow was sworn in to replace Victoria Wilson, whose term, the White House had argued, ended Nov. 29, the expiration date for the term of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. President Clinton appointed Miss Wilson in 2000 to replace Judge Higginbotham after the judge's death. Her appointment letter specified her term as ending on that date.

But commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry has refused to seat Mr. Kirsanow, arguing that Miss Wilson's term doesn't expire until 2006 because any newly appointed member serves six years on the commission.

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Miss Wilson to unseat her.

Mr. Kirsanow did not discuss explicitly his situation with the commission yesterday, instead focusing on the kinds of issues he would address as a member of the commission.

A black conservative, Mr. Kirsanow outlined the political difficulty Republicans faced when attempting to discuss civil rights.

"You are excluded from the discussion unless you subscribe to a three-pronged model," Mr. Kirsanow said.

The first is to embrace affirmative action, the second is to accept civil rights as a group right rather than that of individuals, and the third is to subscribe to the concepts of entitlement and reparation, he said.

"Civil rights as a discussion has not advanced for two generations," Mr. Kirsanow said. "Many who can bring something to the discussion have been omitted."

During his 35-minute talk and speaking only from a few notes, Mr. Kirsanow quoted from disparate sources, from Alexis de Tocqueville to "Dirty Harry."

He also attacked affirmative action. Although approving of its original idea, he proclaimed that "affirmative action is a false premise as it is currently constituted." He further noted that obsession with diversity was polarizing.

"America's strength doesn't come from its diversity but from its unity," Mr. Kirsanow said.

Yesterday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, wrote a letter of support to Mr. Kirsanow, which was read aloud to the audience at Heritage.

"I regret that in this day and age that there are some who would bar the schoolhouse door to public servants who are Hispanic or African-American simply because they do not think in the way that the liberal left seems to demand," Mr. Hatch wrote. "It is ironic that the same people who once called for openness to diverse ideas now simply shun anyone with a perspective that differs from their increasingly out-of-the-mainstream views."

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