Today, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a government-funded “one-day national conference” called “A New Era: Defining Civil Rights in the 21st Century.” Created by the Civil Rights Act of1957, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a “bipartisan, independent commission of the U.S. federal government” intended to serve as a bastion against discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin.”
The final panel of the conference, titled “The Future of the Civil Rights Commission,” will debate whether the Commission “has outlived its usefulness.” Panelists will discuss whether “it is appropriate for the federal government to take the lead” on certain civil rights issues.
During the Bush administration, conservatives “who had long opposed the commission’s work” used “a controversial maneuver” to stack the commission with six “like-minded commissioners.” This conservative majority lambasted the health care reform bill for supporting minority doctors and urged Congress to vote down the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, steering the commission’s work towards a path that, as one of the two Democratic commissioners put it, “aims to ‘dismantle the civil rights program that exists throughout this country.'”
Leading civil rights organizations have rebuked the Commission as “a political arm of the conservative movement in America.” Yesterday, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson told Talking Points Memo that he refuses to attend the conference because “it’s a sham”:
“I’m not attending the conference. I think it’s a sham,” Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told TPM. […]
Henderson said that as the period of conservative control over the commission is set to end this year, some of the conservative commissioners — including Chairman Gerald Reynolds — are grasping at straws.
“This is Gerald Reynolds’ last ditch effort to give legitimacy and luster to his failed tenure,” Henderson said.
Reynold’s “failed tenure” results from his diametric opposition to the purpose of the Commission. The original, temporary Commission fought for its permanency because “no where in the federal government [is] there an agency charged” with the “invaluable function” of “the continuous appraisal of the status of civil rights.” However, Reynolds told the Washington Times that “in a lot of areas, it’s not the proper role for the federal government to take care of” disadvantaged groups “but instead for local governments, churches and other community organizations.” Reynold’s sentiment echoes that of several Republican candidates who, as ThinkProgress’s Scott Keyes notes, are “eager to denigrate the federal government’s role in protecting civil rights.”
Further highlighting the dominance of the Commission’s conservative viewpoint, five of the conservative-leaning commissioners will be hosting panels at today’s conference. The two Democrats and the sole Republican who criticized the Commission’s attention to the manufactured right-wing New Black Panthers “scandal” are not moderating any panels. And two of the three panelists debating the future of the Commission believe that the Commission is “a complete waste of resources” that “should be disbanded.” The conference also features Roger Clegg, a former DOJ’s General Civil Rights Division attorney under Presidents Reagan and Bush who supports racial profiling and now works for a “small vehemently anti-affirmative action group.”