- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

The Supreme Court declined yesterday to review a ruling that upheld an appointment by President Bush to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, handing the Bush administration and the three other Republican-leaning appointees to the commission a victory in a partisan dispute over the panel's political composition.

The justices, with no comment, let stand a U.S. appeals court ruling from May that appointee Peter Kirsanow, a conservative labor lawyer from Cleveland, should take his seat on the eight-member commission.

Mr. Kirsanow said the validated lower-court ruling paves the way for he and his fellow commissioners to pursue a new civil rights agenda.

"My plan is not to generate controversy but to vigorously address civil rights issues in a way that has not been done on the commission in some time," Mr. Kirsanow said. "There is a good argument that all civil rights legislation that can be passed has been passed and it is time to go in a new direction. The current prescriptions are old and worn out."

The White House did not return calls.

The commission is now split evenly along partisan lines, with four Republican- and four Democratic-leaning members.

Commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry and three other members opposed Mr. Kirsanow's appointment in December and contended that Victoria Wilson, a 1998 Clinton appointee, was legally entitled to serve a full six-year term.

They relied on a 1994 statute that, they said, required her term to be six years, and Justice Department lawyers argued that a 1983 statute passed by Congress was applicable.

New York lawyer Leon Friedman who represented Miss Wilson, the commissioner that Mr. Kirsanow replaced said that "the court was clearly wrong in letting stand something [the 1983 statute] that Congress had clearly eliminated."

Miss Berry and commission Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso entered into the lawsuit as "intervenors," or affected third parties. Earlier this year, Mr. Reynoso, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court, called their reading of the 1994 statute "incontrovertible."

The lower court ruling said Miss Wilson's term had expired last year and that she was only finishing the term of a commissioner who died while on the panel.

Miss Berry and commission staff director Les Jin did not return calls yesterday.

In December, Miss Berry said in a statement that "if the courts should decide that our interpretation of the appointments clause of our statute is wrong, then we will, of course, abide by judicial instructions."

The panel was formed in 1957 with the requirement that there be an ideological split. But the commission has endured varying degrees of such splits. Yesterday's ruling evens the partisan division for the first time since 1996.

With Republicans ruling both the House and the Senate, Mr. Kirsanow said his voice and those of his Republican colleagues would be listened to. And though the commission has no enforcement authority, he added, its policies and ideas may now have more heft.

"I think that we now have a pretty good megaphone," Mr. Kirsanow said. "We have already come up with a number of ideas to present to various members of Congress, and the Republicans have an opportunity now to forge a new and exciting civil rights agenda."

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