Congress Extends Rights Panel; Judge Orders Members Rehired
Washington--The Congress took steps last week to ensure that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will not go out of business before the end of the month.
At the same time, a federal district judge here granted a preliminary injunction barring President Reagan from firing two members of the panel because she said it appears he lacks the authority to do so.
U.S. District Judge Norma H. Johnson's order requiring the reinstatement of Mary F. Berry and Blandina Cardenas Ramirez to the bipartisan, fact-finding panel, however, could be rendered moot by the compromise worked out by the White House and the Congress and endorsed by the chambers last week.
The agreement, which was approved by the Senate on Nov. 14 and by the House two days later, would create a new eight-member panel to replace the current six-member advisory agency established under the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Currently, the President appoints all of the panel's members, but under the new agreement four members would be appointed by the President, two would be appointed by the Speaker of the House, and the remaining two by the president pro tem of the Senate.
A bill that would simply have reauthorized the commission as it now exists became bogged down in the dispute over President Reagan's decision on Oct. 25 to dismiss Ms. Berry, Ms. Ramirez, and Rabbi Murray Saltzman from the panel. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1983.)
Mr. Reagan planned to replace the commissioners with people whose views on civil rights more closely match his own, but the Senate refused to act on his nominations.
According to Congressional aides, last week's compromise will allow the Congress to appoint Ms. Berry and Ms. Ramirez to the new panel. It will also allow Mr. Reagan to appoint two of his nominees--presumably Morris B. Abram and John H. Bunzel.
The President is also expected to reappoint the panel's current chairman, Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., and its vice-chairman, Mary L. Smith. Jill L. Ruckelshaus, another incumbent commissioner, is also expected to be one the Congressional nominees.
The remaining Congressional nominee has not been chosen, according to the aides.
The Congress was expected to complete action on the compromise measure, HR 2230, before its scheduled Nov. 18 adjournment.
Spokesmen for the White House indicated that the President would sign the measure when it reaches his desk.--tm