Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Can we just change the name to Commission on Dismantling Civil Rights and be done with it?

Via a comment at Firedoglake, I come across this article, showing what's happened to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Bush administration:
The US Commission on Civil Rights, the nation's 50-year-old watchdog for racism and discrimination, has become a critic of school desegregation efforts and affirmative action ever since the Bush administration used a controversial maneuver to put the agency under conservative control.

Democrats say the move to create a conservative majority on the eight-member panel violated the spirit of a law requiring that no more than half the commission be of one party. Critics say Bush in effect installed a fifth and sixth Republican on the panel in December 2004, after two commissioners, both Republicans when appointed, reregistered as independents.

"I don't believe that [the law] was meant to be evaded by conveniently switching your voter registration," said Commissioner Michael Yaki, one of the two remaining Democrats.

The administration insists that Bush's appointments were consistent with the law because the two commissioners who reregistered as independents no longer counted as Republicans. The day before Bush made the appointments, the Department of Justice approved the move in a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales's office.

Other presidents have been able to create a majority of like-minded commissioners, but no president has done it this way. The unusual circumstances surrounding the appointments attracted little attention at the time. But they have had a sweeping effect, shifting the commission's emphasis from investigating claims of civil rights violations to questioning programs designed to offset the historic effects of discrimination.

Before the changes, the agency had planned to evaluate a White House budget request for civil rights enforcement, the adequacy of college financial aid for minorities, and whether the US Census Bureau undercounts minorities, keeping nonwhite areas from their fair share of political apportionment and spending. After the appointments, the commission canceled the projects.

Instead, the commission has put out a series of reports concluding that there is little educational benefit to integrating elementary and secondary schools, calling for closer scrutiny of programs that help minorities gain admission to top law schools, and urging the government to look for ways to replace policies that help minority-owned businesses win contracts with race-neutral alternatives.

The conservative bloc has also pushed through retroactive term limits for several of its state advisory committees. As a result, some longtime traditional civil rights activists have had to leave the advisory panels, and the commission replaced several of them with conservative activists.

The commission has also stopped issuing subpoenas and going on the road to hold lengthy fact-finding hearings, as it previously did about once a year. The commission had three planned hearings in the works when the conservative bloc took over and canceled them. Instead, the panel has held only shorter briefings, all but one of which was in Washington, from invited specialists.

Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom says of the members of the commission, "They are completely balanced in a way they haven't been for years." Yeah; it's been years since the commission was packed with people who believe that school integration is bad.

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