LCCR Letter to Senator Kennedy Opposing the Gerald Reynolds Nomination

Categories: Advocacy Letter

Recipient:

February 25, 2002

Honorable Edward M. Kennedy
Chair, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6300

Re: Nomination of Gerald Reynolds to the Position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the Department of Education

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), we are writing to express our opposition to the nomination of Gerald Reynolds to the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the Department of Education. The LCCR is the nation’s oldest and most diverse coalition of organizations working to advance civil and human rights, with over 180 organizations representing persons of color, women, children, organized labor, persons with disabilities, the elderly, gays and lesbians, civil liberties, human rights organizations and major religious groups.

While the LCCR normally defers on opposition to Executive Branch nominations, our careful review of Mr. Reynolds’s record leads us to conclude that his hostility to the laws and policies he would be charged with enforcing make him totally unsuitable for the position he seeks.

The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is responsible for developing Departmental civil rights policy, monitoring recipients of Departmental funds for compliance with anti-discrimination laws, supervising desegregation efforts, investigating complaints of discrimination and bringing administrative actions. Mr. Reynolds holds extreme positions on many civil rights issues, is openly hostile to affirmative action, and publicly minimizes the pernicious effects of racism and discrimination.

Mr. Reynolds’s views on the necessity of civil rights enforcement are deeply troubling. For example, he has stated, “If we could wave a magic wand and do away with racism and discrimination overnight, it is not going to change or improve the lives of black Americans.” (Christian Science Monitor, “Even Supporters Grumble Over Clinton Panel on Race,” September 30, 1997). He has expressly denied that racism is a barrier preventing African-Americans from making progress, pointing instead to ” a felony conviction, a low quality education, and rampant out-of-wedlock births” as “insurmountable barriers” to African-Americans. (Human Events, “Conservative Spotlight: Center for New Black Leadership,” November 14, 1997).

In addition, Mr. Reynolds’s all-out opposition to affirmative action puts him in direct conflict with carefully crafted policies that the Office of Civil Rights is charged with implementing. On numerous occasions, Mr. Reynolds has pronounced his vehement opposition to all forms of affirmative action, and has stated his ultimate goal of seeing “racial preferences cast into the same trash heap as poll taxes”. (Los Angeles Times, “Civil Rights Leaders Pay to Settle Key Bias Case Law,” Nov. 22, 1997). He derides the diversity rationale for affirmative action as the “Benetton approach to education,” which “has nothing to do with educational achievement for minorities.” (PR Newswire, “Judge Mistakenly Equates Racial Diversity of Educational Opportunity in Boston School Committee Case, Says Center for New Black Leadership,” June 1, 1998).

Mr. Reynolds even criticizes the remedial justification that courts have widely recognized as a compelling justification for affirmative action: “Supporters of racial preferences argue that they are needed to remedy the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination. They believe that justice demands that “society” use preference programs as a form of compensation. Historical grievances do not trump the constitution.” (The Dallas Morning News, “Con: Affirmative Action Admissions, Apr. 7, 1996). Mr. Reynolds has concluded that “racial preferences and set-asides” are “exacerbating racial tension in America and are, in the end, discouraging, rather than promoting the achievement of minorities.” (PR Newswire, “On Eve of Committee Mark-Up, Center for New Black Leadership Calls Civil Rights Act of 1997 Major Step in Improving Race Relations, Increasing Opportunity,” Nov. 5, 1997). Ultimately, Mr. Reynolds’s zealous opposition to affirmative action, even affirmative action to remedy a history of discrimination, which has the unquestioned approval of the Supreme Court, makes him unfit to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights.

Further, in his advocacy before Congress, Mr. Reynolds has express his disdain for laws which require strong justification for practices that have an adverse impact on racial minorities and other groups. (See PR Newswire Nov. 5, 1997). These views would do severe damage not only to African-Americans and Latinos, but to women protected by Title IX and people with disabilities protected by Section 504.

Finally, it is important to recognize that the confirmation of Brian Jones as General Counsel to the Department of Education in tandem with the potential confirmation of Mr. Reynolds could present a significant obstacle to the comprehensive enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws. On a host of civil rights issues, the two nominees have taken the same extreme positions, positions that are fundamentally at odds with the role and function of officials we entrust to enforce our nation’s civil rights laws and policies. If Mr. Reynolds is confirmed, then the Department of Education may be left without a moderating influence to prevent the unchecked pursuit of policy objectives and legal strategies that run counter to the fundamental mission of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education.

In sum, the LCCR opposes the nomination of Mr. Reynolds because his positions and influence on education policy at the Department of Education would diminish equality of educational opportunity for millions of Americans. In light of the great influence the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights exerts over civil rights law, policy and practice within the Department of Education, Mr. Reynolds’s extreme views on civil rights should disqualify him for this critical position. Mr. Reynolds articulated the following standard when testifying against the nomination of Bill Lann Lee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights: “It is imperative that this Committee disqualify any candidate whose background indicates that his ideological beliefs will probably lead him to ignore the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.” (Testimony of Gerald A. Reynolds before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Oct 22, 1997). Applying this standard, Mr. Reynolds’s nomination should be rejected by this Committee.

As you know, the President of the United States is charged by the constitution to “take care that the laws are faithfully executed.” The Committee has every reason to believe that if Mr. Reynolds is confirmed, the laws of our nation will not be faithfully executed. Whatever Mr. Reynolds may say to gain confirmation, the Committee should not gamble with the rights of millions of Americans.

We appreciate the consideration by you and other Committee members of this letter. Please contact us if we can provide you with any additional information.

Sincerely,

Wade Henderson
Executive Director, LCCR
Co-Chair, Education Task Force

William L. Taylor
Vice-Chair, LCCR
Co-Chair, Education Task Force

Cecilia Munoz
Co-Chair, LCCR
Education Task Force

cc: Committee members