Administration Falls Short, Rights Report Says

By Peter Schmidt — January 25, 1995 3 min read
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The Clinton Administration has demonstrated good intentions but a clear lack of direction or action in the area of civil rights, the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights says in a 300-page report issued last week.

There continues to be no one in the White House designated to oversee policy in this area, the report says, “often leaving agency civil-rights chiefs in a quandary” when Administration guidance is needed.

But the commission, a watchdog group made up of former federal civil-rights officials and other advocates, notes approvingly that the President has made several appointments lauded by civil-rights groups, including judicial appointments that have brought more diversity to the federal bench.

The panel also says the Administration appears to have taken significant steps to address discrimination in education. It notes stepped-up activity at the Education Department’s office for civil rights.

The O.C.R. has issued guidelines for investigating racial-bias complaints, has reversed a Bush Administration policy holding that race-based scholarships are discriminatory, and has launched an array of investigations in such areas as sexual harassment and discriminatory ability-grouping practices. (See Education Week, 11/09/94.)

Nevertheless, the report says, the Administration has yet to advance a school-desegregation agenda and appears to have a mixed record on federal funding of scholarship programs that help minorities attend college. It also argues that Clinton officials could be more active in advancing gender equity in education.

Housing Emphasis

So far, much of the Clinton Administration’s civil-rights activity has been focused on housing, an area in which the President called for stronger enforcement early in his term. In a recent interview, George C. Galster, a principal research associate at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, termed the emphasis “the most significant initiative we have seen in more than a generation.”

The Justice Department has beefed up its staff assigned to enforcing fair-housing laws by about a third, and has filed and settled several cases against banks accused of demonstrating a pattern of bias in lending. The Housing and Urban Development Department also has revised its policies to try to insure integration in public housing.

In other civil-rights areas, the report says, the Administration:

  • Has defended the constitutionality of heavily minority voting districts.
  • Helped advance labor rights with such measures as the Family and Medical Leave Act, and pleased rights groups by reversing the Justice Department’s stance on a case involving the Piscataway, N.J., school district. The Administration is opposing a white teacher’s challenge to the district’s decision to lay her off, rather than a black colleague with equal qualifications, to preserve diversity on its staff.
  • Has moved to address the disproportionate placement of environmental hazards in minority communities. But, the report says, the Administration appears not to have paid much attention to “electronic redlining,” whereby such communities--including their schools--are denied access to the information highway.

Others Fault ‘Activists’

The commission blames much of President Clinton’s slow start in civil-rights enforcement on his failure to quickly fill key positions and his bungled nomination of Lani Guinier to the post of assistant attorney general for civil rights. Advocates were angered by the President’s decision to drop Ms. Guinier’s nomination after controversy erupted over her views on voting rights.

But Mr. Clinton’s appointments appear to have left conservative observers angry as well. Clint Bolick, the vice president of the libertarian Institute for Justice, said the President “has appointed to every major civil-rights position former ideological activists, and they have pursued extremely liberal civil-rights policies across the board.”

Conservatives were particularly opposed to the nomination of Deval L. Patrick, who last April filled the post originally designated for Ms. Guinier. Since then, he has fired the three division chiefs in charge of employment, voting, and educational opportunities. As of last week, the Administration had not filled the education post.

Congress has said it plans to summon Mr. Patrick for oversight hearings.

Copies of the report are available by calling (202) 659-5565.

A version of this article appeared in the January 25, 1995 edition of Education Week as Administration Falls Short, Rights Report Says


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