NOMINATION ON HOLD
November 13, 1997
In an attempt to keep alive Bill Lann Lee's chances to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on his nomination by the Judiciary Committee. The committee's chair, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), discuss today's actions, after a background report from Phil Ponce.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
November 5, 1997:
The nomination of Mr. Bill Lann Lee keeps the spotlight on Proposition 209.
November 3, 1997:
The Supreme Court declines to hear a challenge to California's Proposition 209, the 1996 initiative which overturned affirmative action in the state.
September 30, 1997:
Presidential race advisers discuss Clinton's One America initiative.
July 4, 1997:
Online Forum The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook joins Angela Oh in responding to the first online forum on race relations.
June 16, 1997:
Experts analyze the merits of the President's weekend speech on race relations.
May 20, 1997:
Betty Ann Bowser reports on the effects of dropping affirmative action programs in Texas universities.
May 20, 1997:
The authors of All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way discuss social success in the military.
April 9, 1997:
A federal court in California upholds a state ban on affirmative action programs.
Feb. 21, 1997:
The Online NewsHour hosts a forum on the declining economic power of Hispanic Americans.
Jan. 15, 1996:
Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks to Benjamin DeMott about his book The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Race.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Race Relations.
PHIL PONCE: Where does the nomination go from here? We get answers from two members of the Judiciary Committee: the chairman, Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah, and Richard Durbin, Democrat from Illinois. Gentlemen, welcome. Sen. Hatch, are the Democrats wasting their time? Is the Lee nomination dead?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, Chairman, Judiciary Committee: Well, it's dead for this session. As you know, they prevented a vote, filibustered their own nominee. Under the rules they could do that. After asking me to get it up and have a vote, then they filibustered it. And then what happened was is that I, in order to--and then prevented a vote--so I made a decision to pass around a letter that nine Republicans signed, stating that they would not vote to report Mr. Lee out of the committee because of his viewpoints on the law, among other things, and they would not vote even without recommendation, which is typical of the Judiciary Committee when the Democrats run it in a wide variety of cases, and frankly it was the right thing to do under the circumstances, since we believe we're right on this issue.
Sen. Durbin: "Bill Lee's nomination is very much alive."
PHIL PONCE: And Sen. Durbin, what have the Democrats gained by today's move?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, of course, Bill Lee's nomination is still alive. Had there been a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee today it might have been all over. Frankly, all of us believe that the best way to bring this to a final and just conclusion is to give Bill Lann Lee a chance to have his day on the Senate floor. Let the Senators--Democrats and Republicans--stand up and announce why they're supporting him or opposing him. And I think the President of the United States has made it clear he stands behind Bill Lann Lee. And the fact that he would be blocked by one vote in this committee from having that opportunity is really the issue that we addressed today.
PHIL PONCE: Sen. Hatch, how about that, is this an issue of such importance that the full Senate should pass on it?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: No. That's why the Senate Judiciary--that's what the Senate Judiciary Committee's job is to do, is to make these determinations, and it was apparent that Mr. Lee's nomination really would have been killed today. And, frankly, it has been in the sense that we've recommended now that the leadership of the Senate send the nomination back to the President and frankly that should be the end of it. I don't know what they're going to do about it. They may try to make political points off it, but the fact of the matter is, is that the committee acted as Democrat-controlled committees in the past have acted. We have never--other than in 1950 one time and in 1925 one time--very unrelated cases--we have never put anybody but--to my knowledge--anybody but Supreme Court justices and one circuit court of appeals judge out of the committee without recommendation. So this is the way the Democrats ran the committee; I'm running it in the same precedent; and frankly, members of the committee are willing to stand up. We're the confirming committee, and if the person doesn't have the votes to come out of the committee--and Bill Lann Lee did not--that should end it.
PHIL PONCE: Sen. Hatch, how do you respond to criticism that the only way you would have supported Mr. Lee's nomination is if he would have denounced the views of the very president who nominated him?
Battle centers on "quotas."
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: I don't think that's a fair accusation because the fact of the matter is that the reason Mr. Lee's nomination was stopped is because of his personal viewpoints. And I might add the president's too. You know, what happens is Democrats today say they're against quotas and then they turn around and put people like this in the position to bring threats of action to governments large and small, businesses large and small. The threats of action are so expensive to defend the family businesses and the governments cave in and they then agree to a consent decree that imposes quotas. So, in essence, on one end they say they're not for quotas and that everything they do actually imposes quotas, and Mr. Lee's past indicates that that's what he would do; that's what the prior Clinton assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights actually did, and frankly, that's what's wrong with this country right now. People are being divided because we are giving preferential rights to one group over another. And I've had all groups come to me as chairman of the Judiciary Committee--from the Asian Americans to African Americans to native Americans to Hispanic Americans--you name them--and say that they're tired of preferences because when preference is given against them, they don't feel good about it. The best possible way to approach this is on the basis of equal opportunity for all and equal treatment for all and to use affirmative action for outreach, education, job training, but get rid of the quota side and the misuse of consent degrees to enforce quotas, you know, in the way that they're doing it.
PHIL PONCE: Senator Durbin, how about it? Is this an issue that transcends this particular nomination?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: It absolutely does. When you look at the situation, I think Sen. Hatch, my colleague here, whether he spoke or misspoke, said at the outset the problem just isn't Bill Lee; the problem is Bill Clinton. And the fact is the American people elected Bill Clinton. They gave him the authority to select the people that he wanted in his cabinet, in key agencies, to implement his philosophy and his decision, which has been ratified by the American voters. And I really think it's a sad situation that we continue to wave the bloody shirt with the word "quotas," quotas and preference. Bill Lann Lee was asked directly by Missouri Republican Senator John Ashcroft what his position was on quotas. He said clearly and unequivocally he was against quotas. But that wasn't enough. And it's interesting, this morning's New York Times took his answer to questions about affirmative action and compared the answers of Seth Waxman, the man who was just confirmed by this committee and passed by the Senate to be our solicitor general, and found their answers virtually identical. And that's why I think we have so much frustration on the Democratic side. Here we have an extraordinarily gifted man, a man--the son of Chinese immigrants, who's come up the hard way, who's proven himself, who's asking for a chance to serve this country, and cannot even get a vote on the floor of the United States Senate. That is not fair, and those of us in the Democratic side think that what happened today really is a very sad commentary on the state of the civil rights debate in America today.
PHIL PONCE: Sen. Hatch.
Republicans ask President Clinton to send another nominee.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, it is fair as a matter of fact, and you can ask Jennifer Real, Patrick Lowen, Michael Doe, Janice Camarino, Daniel Podbarsky, and a whole raft of other people all over this country who have had quotas used against them and have had consent decrees used against them and used against their rights, people--kids that can't get into schools who've actually had better grades, better qualifications, but are barred because of quotas. And let me tell you, let me repeat it again--what happens is, is that these people and Bill Lann Lee said--he did say that I'm against quotas, they're illegal--but everything Bill Lann Lee did when he was head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in California and his indications in the committee, in the full committee hearings, was that he would push for consent decrees, which are so expensive to defend that people cave into them and then they have to live up to quotas. So even though he says on the one hand, he's against quotas and they're illegal, on the other hand all of his actions have been pushing to get quotas in order to exclude some people from the same equal opportunities as others. And look, I think it's time to draw the line on this. This is an important debate. I agree with Sen. Durbin, that this is a much bigger thing than this particular nominee. And, by the way, to say that because the full Senate doesn't vote on Bill Lann Lee when the Senate Judiciary Committee says there's no need to--I mean, that's just nothing more or less than what the Senate has done throughout all of its existence. It's an appropriate thing to do; if he doesn't have the votes, then why waste the Senate's time on it? Now, just a few minutes ago there was a unanimous consent request that was granted to send Bill Lee's nomination back to the President. I think the President would be ill-advised to send Bill Lann Lee back up here. I think what the President ought to do is what President Bush did when they rejected an African American for this very same position under the very same circumstances, would not allow him to be voted on in the Senate, because we moved to report him without recommendation; they didn't even do that. They filibustered their own nominee, and what happened was that Bush instead of pouting, instead of raising a lot of Cain about it, he went out and looked for a candidate for this office who would have bipartisan support.
PHIL PONCE: And if I could--
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: And I suggest that the President ought to do that and spend his time doing that, rather than trying to create another unholy issue in this country.
PHIL PONCE: Sen. Durbin, very quickly, in the little time that we have left, what should the President do at this point?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I hope he makes a recess appointment of Mr. Lee so that Mr. Lee can serve in this capacity. Mark my words--
PHIL PONCE: That would just be a temporary--
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: It would be temporary through the next Congress, but let me tell you this, this Judiciary Committee is not going to approve any civil rights head in the Department of Justice. Thurgood Marshall would have lost today had his name been brought up before this committee. It is very clear that they don't like the enforcement of civil rights, even when a fellow like Bill Lee says he's against quotas, they continue to say, oh, he's really for them, we know he is. He said he would follow the law. He has an exemplary record not only as a lawyer but also as a person who has worked his way up in the society. He deserved that vote today, and he didn't get it.
PHIL PONCE: Gentlemen, we'll have to leave it at that. I thank you both for joining us.