Monday, December 6, 2004

President Bush will appoint two new members to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights this week, possibly as early as today, and replace panel Chairman Mary Frances Berry.

Several sources close to the commission told The Washington Times yesterday that the new panel members will be Ashley Taylor, a former Virginia deputy attorney general, and Gerald Reynolds, the former assistant secretary in the Department of Education’s civil rights office.

The new members will replace Ms. Berry and Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso on the eight-member panel.

The White House has insisted over the past two weeks that those terms expired last night at midnight, and that the new commissioners would be appointed promptly. Ms. Berry and Mr. Reynoso have said that their terms end Jan. 21.

One sitting commission member, who asked to remain anonymous, said the appointments could be announced today.

“We are hoping these appointments will come Monday,” the panel member said. “The commissioners got the word late last week that these will be the appointments, and the appointees are the two people that several other commissioners wanted to see on the commission.”

The two appointees do not require Senate confirmation.

Another commission member said that Mr. Reynolds will be the new chairman of the commission, while Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican appointee who is a registered independent, will be vice chairman. Both those posts require the approval of the sitting commissioners.

The move comes as the commission, formed in 1957 and operating with a $9 million annual budget, is the subject of an investigation by the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution. The review is seeking information on, among other things, the financial operations of the commission.

Some commissioners and officials close to the commission fear the appointments will create a legal showdown between Ms. Berry and the White House over the date of her term’s end.

Late Thursday, Ms. Berry canceled the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 10, citing “insufficient substantive items” on the agenda.

Both Ms. Berry and Mr. Reynoso were tapped in 1998 to fill uncompleted terms that were to end Dec. 5, 2004. President Clinton delayed appointing Ms. Berry until Jan. 26, 1999, though.

White House records show that Ms. Berry’s term was up yesterday, conflicting with a Nov. 9 memo sent to commissioners asserting that “the next commissioner terms that will be ending are those of Chairperson Berry and Vice Chairperson Reynoso. According to long-standing commission records, those terms end on midnight, January 21, 2005.”

The memo was sent by staff director Les Jin, a Berry ally and a Clinton appointee himself.

“The problem is that we don’t know whether Mary Frances Berry will be willing to go quietly,” said Jennifer Braceras, a Republican member of the commission. “I’m worried what kind of mischief she will be committing between now and the time she leaves.”

Mrs. Thernstrom said the White House is responsible for policing the actions of Ms. Berry.

“This is a matter of presidential prerogative to make appointments, and the expectation is that when a term expires, the person holding that seat will leave,” Mrs. Thernstrom said. “That is called the rule of law.”

Last week, Ms. Berry and Mr. Reynoso highlighted in a letter to the president an October report approved by the liberal faction of the commission that berated the administration’s civil rights record.

The letter asserted that the terms of Ms. Berry and Mr. Reynoso were to end in January.

But Ms. Berry said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, published yesterday, that she won’t fight her successor’s appointment.

“I’m tired of railing at presidents,” she was quoted as saying.

Mr. Reynolds, who was appointed to his Department of Education post by Mr. Bush in 2001 and took office in 2002, is a conservative with ties to the Republican-leaning Center for New Black Leadership and the Center for Equal Opportunity. He has been a critic of racial preferences. Mr. Reynolds resigned from his education position last year.

Mr. Taylor, a senior associate with the Richmond law firm of Troutman Sanders, served from 1998 to 2001 under then-state Attorney General Mark Earley. Mr. Taylor was deputy attorney general for the Division of Health, Education and Social Services.

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