- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

President Bush's appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, attending his first meeting as a commissioner yesterday, challenged earlier legal actions aimed at him by the panel's liberal majority.
Peter Kirsanow, a labor lawyer from Cleveland, asked who authorized the panel's staff director to retain outside legal counsel to question the validity of his appointment, or whether he did it unilaterally.
"If this is the case, the staff director has extraordinary authority over the commission, and that's frightening to me," Mr. Kirsanow said. "We as a commission should be doing things in a lawful fashion."
He asked fellow commissioners why they were not using the Justice Department, as is usually the case, in the ongoing lawsuit over whether his predecessor's term had expired. On May 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the that term of Victoria Wilson, an appointee of President Clinton, had expired, allowing Mr. Kirsanow a spot on the eight-member panel.
Staff director Les Jin has hired the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to represent the commission for its intervention in the case and its expected appeal of the ruling to the Supreme Court.
In his arguments, Mr. Kirsanow also questioned a May 13 letter he received from commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry that announced the commission's intentions to appeal the ruling.
"I want to know who is the 'commission' this letter refers to," Mr. Kirsanow asked. "There have been no meetings and no votes taken on this issue since the ruling came down late last week. This is the first meeting the commission had since the ruling was announced."
As of yesterday, the commission had not filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in the case.
Miss Berry has previously indicated that the commission authorized Mr. Jin to engage in litigating the matter, which has caused disagreement among the commissioners.
The May ruling left the panel with four liberal-leaning members Miss Berry, Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso, Christopher Edley Jr. and Elsie Meeks and three Republicans Mr. Kirsanow, Abigail Thernstrom and Jennifer Braceras. There is one vacancy on the panel.
In January, Miss Braceras wrote a letter to Mr. Jin, asking him what authority he had to hire outside counsel to intervene in the Kirsanow v. Wilson case. Miss Braceras also wrote that the commission never voted on whether to hire private counsel in the case.
"We are deeply concerned about the serious ethical and legal issues that would be raised by the use of taxpayer funds for this purpose," Miss Braceras wrote.
Mr. Kirsanow asked Mr. Jin to respond to Miss Braceras' questions yesterday, but Miss Berry said these questions had been discussed in the past and moved on to the next item on the meeting's agenda.
In the case, the parties disagreed over whether Miss Wilson's term was over when Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Kirsanow to the commission on Dec. 6. Miss Wilson was apointed by Mr. Clinton in January 2000 to fill the vacancy of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., who died in 1998.
With the backing of Miss Berry, Miss Wilson refused to leave her seat, saying she was entitled to a full six-year term, not just the remainder of Judge Higginbotham's term.
Mr. Kirsanow yesterday asked the panel to seek a legal opinion from the U.S. attorney general on whether a staff director has the authority to prosecute an appeal.
His motion was rejected by a majority of the commission.
"There is a long-standing practice that the chairman and staff director speak in the name of the commission," Mr. Edley said.
Mr. Kirsanow said he will consult with other members of the panel on what to do next.
A lower court ruled that Miss Wilson was entitled to six years on the commission because a 1994 amendment to the commission's bylaws has no provision for recess appointments or for one person serving out another's term.


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