U.S. Commission On Civil Rights To Debate Its Own Existence After Promoting Conservative Values

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is hosting its national conference tomorrow in D.C., but don’t expect a big turnout of civil rights organizations.

“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.The USCCR, established in 1957 as a bulwark against racial discrimination against African-Americans, has historically been associated with a pro civil rights agenda. But under the presidency of George W. Bush, conservatives who had long opposed the commission’s work were able to stack the commission with like-minded commissioners, who took the agency in a different direction — including focusing much of its work on instances of reverse racism.

One look at the agenda for the national conference tells you why Henderson is so put off. Among the speakers are Republicans with deep ties to movement conservatism, including Roger Clegg, a former Justice Department official who opposes affirmative action and defends racial profiling.

Panels will focus on the role of family structure in perpetuating racial and ethnic disparities, how education reform can address the problems in communities and whether the legal tactics for combating discrimination should be augmented with other tactics.

The final panel of the day actually debates whether the Commission should continue to exist.

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.

Only five of the conservative leaning commissioners — Gail Heriot, Ashley Taylor, Todd Gaziano, Peter N. Kirsanow and Reynolds — are hosting the panels at the conference. The two Democrat-nominated commissioners as well as a GOP-nominated commissioner who has been critical of her colleagues focus on the New Black Panther Party case are not moderating any panels.

One of the organizers of the conference said it would feature a wide variety of perspectives on civil rights issues.

“Among those registered to attend Tuesday’s conference are people from congressional staffs and a diverse group of civil rights and social justice organizations, as well as universities and think tanks,” Christine Bragale of The Event Planning Group wrote in an e-mail to TPM.

The majority’s willingness to consider whether the commission should exists at all is highlighted in the description of the final panel of the conference, from the conference’s website:

Panelists will discuss whether there is utility to amending the Commission’s mandate to consider issues such as family structure and education reform through a civil rights lens, whether it is appropriate for the federal government to take the lead on such issues or whether the government body has outlived its usefulness, as some contend.

We already know where at least two of the three members of that panel fall on that question. Russell G. Redenbaugh, when he quit the commission in 2005, called it a “national embarrassment” and said it should be disbanded. Another panelist, Mindy Barry, told The Chicago Tribune in May 2004 that the “commission doesn’t function. It is a complete waste of resources.”

In an interview with The Washington Times ahead of tomorrow’s conference, Reynolds said that there always will be a role for the federal government in enforcing anti-discrimination laws. But, he added, “In a lot of areas, it’s not the proper role for the federal government to take care of” other disadvantaged groups, suggesting local governments, churches and other community organizations should take on that role.

Critics of the conservative majority of the commission has perverted the role of civil rights enforcement and ignored issues which it should have addressed. One of the most glaring examples, they say, is that the commission failed to address the governments failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They say the commission has focused almost exclusively on reverse racism and has also come out against hate crime protections for LGBT citizens.

While more traditional civil rights organizations may not be represented, there will be speakers from a variety of conservative organizations.

Here are five of the most interesting speakers set to appear on panels at the conference:

  • Roger Clegg served as a top official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, including serving in the second highest position in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 1987 to 1991. Clegg’s writings reveal that he strongly supports racial profiling and is opposed to affirmative action. He serves as the President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a small conservative think tank known primarily for its staunch opposition to affirmative action and its aversion to anything it deems “reverse racism.” Clegg has expressed these views in opinion pieces about Law School rankings, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, and the Shirley Sherrod controversy, among many other topics. Recently, he chastised the Obama administration for what he sees as its willingness to give non-whites preferential treatment.
  • Roland Warren is the President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, an organization that seeks to promote strong families and responsible fathers. The NFI receives significant funding from conservative sources, including the Scaife Family Foundation and the Bradley Foundation. It’s founder, Wade F. Horn, served in both Bush administrations. As Assistant Secretary for Children and Families under President George W. Bush, he sought to scale back enrollment in the Head Start program, and implemented changes that placed an emphasis on testing, much like Bush’s signature — and widely criticized — education initiative, No Child Left Behind. Those proposals prompted Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to tell the New York Times, “With all due respect to the Bush administration, they grab on to something they decide is a problem, and they use it to annihilate an entire program.”
  • Robert Woodson is the founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, an organization funded primarily by donations from conservative groups. Woodson is highly critical of government anti-poverty initiatives for, he says, promoting dependency among recipients. Rather, he favors using economic growth and policies that support “workfare not welfare” as a remedy for inner city poverty. He has served as an aide to Newt Gingrich and, in 1984, was appointed to head the newly created Council for a Black Economic Agenda, a conservative think tank. The CBEA came under fire from black community organizations like the National Urban League, after its members were given an exclusive meeting with President Ronald Reagan while the NUL and other groups were shut out.
  • Kay S. Hymowitz is a fellow at the conservative think tank The Manhattan Institute, which says its mission is to “develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.” Hymowitz has written extensively on the breakdown of American marriage, claiming the decrease in married couples is contributing to the deterioration of our culture. In her book, Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, she argues that African-Americans are the most at-risk because marriages among them are “increasingly rare.” In pieces with such titles as “The Daddy Dilemma,” “The Incredible Shrinking Father,” “Father’s Day Without Fathers,” and “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” among others, Hymowitz rails against African-Americans for failing to keep their families together and raising children who are unlikely to become productive members of society. She also has some harsh words for women who choose to pursue motherhood via “non-traditional” methods. In a recent piece for the Washington Examiner, she characterized women who choose artificial insemination with donor sperm as “entitled” and claims that “their kids are more likely to suffer malaise about their identity, as well as to abuse drugs and alcohol and to have run-ins with the police.”
  • Heather Mac Donald, who also works at the Manhattan Institute, focuses her work on homeland security, immigration, policing, and racial profiling. Her research interests line up well with The Manhattan Institute, which is known for pioneering the Broken Windows theory — a widely criticized method of policing that was embraced by Rudy Giuliani while he was mayor of New York. In one book, Are Cops Racist?, Mac Donald suggests that efforts to curb racial profiling by the police are actually harmful to blacks. She also claims that stop-and-frisk and other controversial policing methods are not, in fact, racist, because the majority of crimes in this country are committed by African Americans. In 2005, MacDonald received the Bradley Prize for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement, which is awarded to top conservatives who embrace the Bradley Foundation’s mission of supporting “limited, competent government; a dynamic marketplace for economic, intellectual, and cultural activity; and a vigorous defense, at home and abroad, of American ideas and institutions.”

Additional reporting by Johanna Barr and Jon Terbush.

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