Clinton Appoints Lee to Civil Rights Job

BySonya Ross

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 3, 2000 -- President Clinton removed “acting” from BillLann Lee’s job title at the Justice Department, appointing himtoday as assistant attorney general for civil rights during acongressional recess.

The White House announcement, made without comment while Clintonwas playing golf, comes nearly three years after the presidentnamed Lee as his main civil rights enforcer on an acting basis tocircumvent heavy Republican opposition.

Today’s action allows Lee to hold the post through the end ofClinton’s term in January without sending his nomination toCongress for approval.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat on the SenateJudiciary Committee, said Republican recalcitrance forced Clintonto give Lee a recess appointment.

“The way they have treated Bill Lann Lee has been petty andsteeped in partisan vinegar,” Leahy said. “It has been a directinsult to him and to all who care about civil rights enforcement.”

Accusation of Partisan PoliticsSenate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose committeewould have sat in judgment on a Lee nomination, said Clinton wasthe one playing partisan politics, installing Lee during theRepublican National Convention.

“The timing of this decision serves as further evidence of whatwe have come to know is true: The Clinton-Gore White House isintent on dividing our people rather than uniting us for the commongood,” Hatch said. He added that he personally likes Lee and“would support him in any number of positions.”

Clinton notified Senate leaders late last year that he mightinstall 13 languishing nominations through “recess appointments,”so named because they are done while Congress is out of session.

Lee’s nomination was among five vigorously opposed by a group ofRepublicans who indicated they might retaliate against recessappointments by blocking all judicial nominees for the rest ofClinton’s term, which ends Jan. 20.

Other Appointments, TooThe president also appointed another of those five today,making Sally Katzen deputy director for management at the Office ofManagement and Budget.

Clinton has groused publicly that some of his judicialnominations — notably, those of minorities and women — are hung upin the Senate.

Leahy said Lee’s situation is part of a four-year pattern underwhich Clinton’s nominees, “especially women and minorities, havebeen subjected to anonymous and humiliating delays before they geta vote, if they ever get a vote at all.”

Republican members of the Senate have declared their opposition to Lee’srecord on issues such as affirmative action and schooldesegregation.

Repeated NominationsClinton first nominated Lee, a former lawyer for the NAACP LegalDefense and Educational Fund, on July 21, 1997. In December 1997,Clinton installed Lee as acting assistant attorney general forcivil rights.

That gave Lee an indefinite hold on the job and was consideredless confrontational than invoking constitutional power for arecess appointment.

Clinton nominated Lee again in January and March 1998, but noaction has been taken since.

Under the Constitution, the president can temporarily bypass theSenate confirmation process by giving an individual an appointmentduring a congressional recess.

In 1999, Clinton used a recess appointment to install SanFrancisco businessman James Hormel, who is homosexual, asambassador to Luxembourg. Hormel’s nomination had been blocked inCongress for two years.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events