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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2000 / 3 Shevat 5761

Evan Gahr

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Louts Above the Law -- JOHN ASHCROFT'S critics have it half right. It is certainly conceivable that an ideological zealot could refuse to enforce civil rights law, disregard court decisions, and otherwise advance his own personal extremist agenda.

Sound familiar? The Clinton administration was chock full of such personages -- emboldened by many of the same Democrats who today fret that an ideological attorney general might shirk his legal duties. Often times, the problem was not too little enforcement; but too much. Remember how the Department of Housing and Urban and Development used fair housing laws to stifle community groups opposed to a homeless shelter in their neighborhood? In 1995 HUD cited the groups' own newsletters as evidence of illegal discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Late last year, a three-judge panel for the generally quite liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Clinton administration. The court upbraided HUD for its " extraordinarily intrusive and chilling measures." Hardly chastened the Clinton administration appealed to the full 9th Circuit.

At least it appealed. Other times, it simply ignore court decisions altogether -- even the Supreme Court's. Adarand v. Pena, the high court's 1995 decision severely limiting racial preferences in government contracting, hardly dampened the administration's double standard for contractors of color. The Center for Equal Opportunity compiled many examples of how the administration shirked its responsibilities under Adarand. In 1999 the Justice Department even supported the Defense Department's decision to deny a government contract to the lowest bidder, a non-minority-owned telecommunications firm. Instead, the contract was awarded to a minority-owned contractor for an additional $200,000 over five years.

Perhaps, the most blatant abuse of the law and refusal to enforce existing civil rights laws came from Norma Cantu, assistant education secretary for civil rights throughout the Clinton years. Cantu's abuses were legion and her power considerable. As head of the Department's Office of Civil Rights, Cantu could deny federal funds to educational institutions the OCR deemed guilty of discrimination. "Discrimination" took on an entirely new meaning. In 1994, her department promulgated guidelines that defined racial harassment so broadly schools could be held liable for controversial statements made by everyone from cafeteria workers to guest speakers to professors. .

Cantu's extra-legal activity peaked a few years later. In 1996, a federal court barred Texas schools from using race to determine admissions and scholarships. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, which made the decision legally binding for the three states under the lower court's jurisdiction (Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi). No matter. In March 1997, Cantu warned Texas legislators that state schools could lose $500 million in federal funding if they discontinued affirmative action programs.

Cantu's decision to thumb her nose at the Supreme Court came under heated opposition from prominent Republicans, including Texas senator Phil Gramm and Georgia Rep. Bob Barr. But Democrats acquiesced. When Gramm demanded that Cantu reverse her decision, he was harshly criticized by Democrats as playing racial politics. Texas state representative Rodney Ellis and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee denounced Gramm and sided with Cantu at a press conference held at Texas Southern University. .

""This is not a time for race-baiting, but instead a time to look at what is best for our state and our nation,'' Lee said. "We should not be dividing ourselves over simple questions. Do we need diversity? Yes. Is diversity legal? Yes,'' she said

There you have it: abiding by a court decision is "race-baiting." Under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, Cantu eventually reversed course. She said the Education Department, in accordance with the court decision, would not penalize schools that fail to practice "affirmative action."

Today many of the same folks who sided with Cantu's original decision to flout the court order are suddenly worried about strict adherence to the law. They fret that Ashcroft won't follow court precedents on such touchy issues as abortion. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who vocally sided with Cantu, has joined forces with the anti-Ashcroft mob.

Testifying against Ashcroft last week, she declared "This country has come far in improving civil rights and fundamental fairness. The confirmation of John Ashcroft will set us back years after all the improvements that have been made." Improvements?

JWR contributor Evan Gahr is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. To comment click here.


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11/13/00: Gore's biggest missing Florida bloc
11/07/00: Hillary's cruel blow to American pluralism
11/01/00: Given Hillary's history should anyone -- other than society's most radical -- be surprised?
10/26/00: Remembering Gus Hall, that 'all-American' kinda guy
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07/12/00: Geraldo's Food for Thought
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06/08/00: For voting rights purposes, should criminal offenders be judged not by the content of their character but the color of their skin?
05/10/00: Feminist Majority Rule
05/02/00: The Tin Man's Doctor
03/07/00: Bob Jones hypocrisy: Liberals are lecturing Americans on "anti-Catholicism"?
02/03/00: The red and the Black: The Left-wing Extremist in Bill Bradley’s Camp
01/06/00: Looking backwards: An anchorman's version of the 20th Century
12/16/99: Yellow journalism for the Pink Lady?
12/07/99: How to make the American Psychological Association squirm

© 2001, Evan Gahr adapted from The American Spectator online