White House Statement on the Commission on Civil Rights

October 25, 1983

Five months ago, the President forwarded four nominations to the Senate for positions on the Commission on Civil Rights: Morris Abram, John Bunzel, and Robert Destro to serve as Commissioners; and Linda Chavez to serve as Staff Director.

All four are Democrats with distinguished backgrounds:

Morris Abram is the former president of Brandeis University. Among his other accomplishments, Mr. Abram authored legislation outlawing Ku Klux Klan violence, fought and won the landmark one man one vote case before the Supreme Court, and served for 9 years as chairman of the United Negro College Fund.

John Bunzel, also a former university president with a long record as a thinker and activist on behalf of civil rights, was cited by the San Francisco board of supervisors for his ``unswerving devotion to the highest ideals of brotherhood and service to mankind and dedicated efforts looking to the elimination of racial and religious discrimination.''

Robert Destro, a professor of law, pioneered the development of legal services for a nationwide civil rights practice devoted to combating discrimination based on religion or national origin as general counsel of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Linda Chavez, among other professional accomplishments, has served on the staff of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights and as assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Aside from their party affiliation and high qualifications, their only common denominators are intellectual independence and lifetimes of persistence in opposing discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.

Under the Constitution and the relevant statute (42 U.S.C. 1975), members of the Commission serve at the pleasure of the President. That fact is confirmed on the certificate of appointment held by every Commissioner who has ever served -- including all current members -- and was acknowledged yet again last spring by the report of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Rather than permitting the Senate to consider these nominees on their merits, some Senators have refused to vote to move the nominations out of committee and to the Senate floor. Instead, they have claimed that the very act of nominating these distinguished individuals somehow compromises the ``independence'' of the Commission. That argument is not supported by history.

When controversy arose on this matter, the President directed members of his staff to meet with representatives of the Senate Judiciary Committee to see if a solution to the impasse could be reached. The President made it clear from the beginning that he was prepared to accept arrangements that permitted some or all of the current members of the Commission to remain in office. In the discussions between the White House and members of the Judiciary Committee, tentative agreements were reached on a number of occasions. Each time the President agreed to the compromise formula; each time those opposing the nominations ultimately rejected the compromise. The latest tentative agreement would have expanded the Commission to eight members now (including two of the three Presidential nominees) and then in the spring of 1984, the third Presidential nominee would replace one of the present incumbents. The President agreed to that proposal, but again it was rejected by the other side.

Because of the impasse, the legislative authorization for the Commission expired on September 30, 1983. The Judiciary Committee has before it a reauthorization bill that would specifically retain the incumbent members of the Commission, thwarting the President's ability to exercise his power of appointment.

Thus far, the President has refrained from using his authority to remove the Commissioners who would be replaced by his nominees while the Senate was considering their qualifications. But in order to break the present deadlock and allow the Commission's authority to be extended, the President has reluctantly concluded that he has no choice but to remove the three ``holdover'' Commissioners. The President has therefore terminated the appointments of Mary Berry, Blandina Ramirez, and Murray Saltzman. The President has also urged the Senate to act quickly to reauthorize the Commission and to take up the pending nominations.

It should be emphasized that the issue at stake in this matter is not the removal of certain individuals or the Civil Rights Commission itself. The issue is the responsibility of the President to exercise the power given to him by law. It is that constitutional power of appointment, so long a part of the American political tradition, that is at stake here. The President is appreciative of the efforts made by a number of Senators to help reach a common solution on this matter.

The Counsellor to the President, Edwin Meese III, has sent a letter to Senators Thurmond, Dole, and Laxalt expressing that gratitude. The body of each letter reads as follows:

``On behalf of all of us at the White House, I would like to thank you for your efforts to assist in attaining a principled compromise on the confirmation of the President's appointees to the Civil Rights Commission and the reauthorization of that body.

``Throughout the past several weeks we have endeavored to arrive at a solution to the impasse in the Senate and have made several successive changes in our position, in an attempt to obtain the requisite number of votes. Your assistance in communicating our position to your colleagues and in seeking to gain support has been most helpful.

``We are naturally disappointed that, despite our numerous major concessions, the necessary number of votes for a compromise have not been forthcoming. Nevertheless, we are grateful for your support and for all you have done.''