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Civil rights for dummies

By Gregory J. Hand
web posted December 10, 2001

The unsuitably named U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is one of those governmental agencies that do two things: the first is to waste taxpayer dollars, in this particular case approximately $9 million a year. Its other purpose, of course, is to give a voice to embittered people whose only real pleasure in life is not only hating the right, but using taxpayer funds to screw them at every turn. In that this commission not only works overtime, but has an exemplary track record as well.

Speaking of embittered people, the commission is chaired by Mary Frances Berry, a member since 1980, who jokingly classifies herself as a political 'Independent.' In reality she is nothing more than a race hustling liberal; think Al Sharpton in drag; who uses her position to do as much damage to race relations as she possibly can, which obviously creates a continued demand for her services in investigating, as she sees it, the never ending parade of racist atrocities.

Mary Frances Berry

Berry, however, has something of a problem brewing on her hands. The commission has heretofore been predominantly liberal, and up until recently was split 6-2 between commissioners who lean Democratic and those that lean Republican. Unfortunately for Berry, last month the White House announced that it intended to appoint Jennifer Cabranes Braceras to replace Yvonne Lee, whose term expired in early December. The split, as it now stands with Lee gone and Braceras in her place, is 5-3.

While that loss was important, although not critical, to Berry's continued reign, the trouble is that in January 2000, then President Bill Clinton appointed Victoria Wilson to, according to records on file with the White House, complete the term of Judge A. Leon Higgenbotham, Jr., who died in 1998. Higgenbotham's, and subsequently Wilson's term, tragically expired on November 29th.

The White House, seeing another opening, appointed Peter Kirsanow, a Cleveland lawyer and member of the predominantly conservative Center for New Black Leadership, to replace Wilson. This, much to Berry's chagrin, would have the unfortunate consequence of splitting the commission 4-4 along largely partisan lines, and would obstruct Berry's ability to misbehave with the backing of a majority of the commission, something she has had the control to do for quite some time.

Needless to say, Mary Frances Berry is not happy about the prospect of losing control of her little empire. She and Wilson are now trying to argue that the early expiration was a ‘mistake' and Wilson should be allowed serve a full six-year term. "The 1994 statute says that if there is a vacancy the term of any new member is six years - period," said Leon Friedman, Wilson's attorney, who also happens to be a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University. A little Allan Dershowitz.

During a meeting of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peter Kirsanow, center, who President Bush appointed to the commission, sits in the audience looking on December 7 in Washington, as his lawyers Robert Kelner, left, and Bobby Burchfield, right, confer, after Kirsanow was denied a seat, or even to be recognized by the commission
During a meeting of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peter Kirsanow, center, who President Bush appointed to the commission, sits in the audience looking on December 7 in Washington, as his lawyers Robert Kelner, left, and Bobby Burchfield, right, confer, after Kirsanow was denied a seat, or even to be recognized by the commission

Berry's initial reaction was a threat not to seat Kirsanow, telling White House counsel Al Gonzales that the administration would have to send in U.S. marshals to do so. It is a shame Gonzales did not call her bluff. White House spokesman Ari Fleisher remarked, "Particularly coming from the Civil Rights Commission, that is exactly the wrong approach a nation that needs racial healing needs to hear. This is inflammatory rhetoric for a commission whose mission has to be to bring people together. ... That type of bellicose language drives people apart." If the mission of this commission has been to "bring people together," as Fleisher claims, it has been a colossal failure. Berry's success at creating wedges along racial lines is legendary, and she is not about to change her behavior now, especially when her power base is being threatened by some rich, white, Republican racist.

Berry, no stranger to theatrics, claims that the dispute is "about the independence and integrity of the commission. It's a unique agency - a watchdog over the enforcement of civil rights, by the president, the Justice Department and all federal agencies." Not surprisingly she rambled on, claiming that White House moves to place Bush's appointee onto the commission were "about muzzling us and it's scary to have them take all of this time and energy. It makes me even more afraid for the preservation of the commission." We should only be so lucky.

Truth be told, Berry needs "muzzling." At best the woman is mildly paranoid in her beliefs about racists lurking at every turn. The commission, if it is to be hoisted upon the American people, needs to be filled with people whose mindset is not set at a default of equating being white with being a racist oppressor. Whenever this commission rolls into town it always seems to find racists and diabolical plots to tyrannize minorities, which is simply this current commission's inability to think that a situation in which they are involved has anything but. They, like a good bit of California, are trapped in the sixties.

Last Thursday evening, in response to Berry's threats about refusing to recognize Bush's nominee, Gonzales had a District of Columbia judge swear Kirsanow in, attempting to bypass her. In response, the following day Berry still refused to seat Kirsanow at the Commission's December meeting, allowing Wilson to sit in his place. Kirsanow, who arrived with three attorneys and sat in the front row of the audience, attempted to vote, but he was ignored and eventually sat silently as the commissioners continued debate.

Also during the two-hour meeting the three Republican commissioners repeatedly referred to "Commissioner Kirsanow," while Berry and her Democratic-leaning allies referred to Kirsanow as "some member of the audience." "This issue will have to be decided by the courts," said Berry, who fended off repeated attempts by the three Republican members to formally introduce Kirsanow or to adjourn the meeting until the dispute is settled. Berry, in fact, called for a commission vote on every Republican effort to introduce Kirsanow - and the result every time was 5-3 against recognizing him. Your tax dollars at work.

Asked after the meeting whether she thought that the White House was seeking retribution for Berry's latest fetish, the panel's accusations that Florida officials had been "grossly derelict" in allowing widespread voter disenfranchisement, Berry responded, "It's very curious and very strange that this should happen, and I do remember that the White House expressed strong views about our report on Florida, calling it names like shoddy, whatever, politicized," she griped, adding later, "So I'm suspicious that they would make this full-court press and use all this time and energy to try to go after this tiny little agency, with a $9 million budget, no enforcement power. All we have is the power to talk and listen and investigate." Given the participants involved, that is much too much power.

White House officials, obviously not happy with Berry's antics, said late Friday that the Justice Department planned to ask the District of Columbia Superior Court to rule on which commissioner is entitled to serve. The conventional wisdom, thankfully, is that the White House will prevail on this issue, and that Berry is only doing everything that she can to delay the inevitable. Tyrants never give up power that easily.

The other Democrats on the panel, content to be led around by Berry in any manner she sees fit, are also not going to take this lying down. Democratic Commissioner and Harvard law professor Christopher Edley has sent a letter to House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, complaining that "the confrontational approach announced by the White House counsel ... amounts to reckless disregard of the statute and an astonishing lack of minimal respect for an independent watchdog group." Poor baby. All this situation needs at the moment is demagogue Dick Gephardt entering the fray. That will certainly be constructive.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is nothing short of an ineffectual joke, not to mention a complete waste of $9 million taxpayer dollars paying these people to jet set around the country looking for imaginary boogey men. Its only obvious purpose is to help the Democratic Party with minority voters by conveniently reinforcing foolish stereotypes of Republicans as racist tyrants. That and a jobs program for aging liberal social activists.

It is unfortunate that Berry has decided to use this commission in this manner, and that politicians in Washington, fearing the ‘racist' label, have not put a stop to her or the out of control monstrosity that this commission has become. Had it lived up to its intended purpose there might be an argument for keeping it around. At this point, however, the commission serves no point except to exacerbate racial tensions, something at which it has become very, very adept. This bully has had enough fun. Congress should pull the plug, and do so now.

Gregory J. Hand is a political and social commentator whose weekly columns disclose his personal passion for conservative issues. His columns appear regularly at NewsCorridor, OpinioNet, and Ether Zone, and he is also a contributing writer with Enter Stage Right. He has a B.A. in Economics from Wofford College. You can view the complete catalog of all of his works on GregoryHand.com, and can reach him at ghand@gregoryhand.com.

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