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Race Debate Stifled, Appointee Says

January 17, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush’s disputed appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said Thursday that some activists are stifling advances in race relations by excluding people with opposing views.

Cleveland labor lawyer Peter N. Kirsanow, appointed by Bush to a six-year term but blocked by the panel’s chairwoman, said a political litmus test by some civil rights leaders has stifled debate.

Disagreeing with one view of affirmative action or refusing to view civil rights ``as group rights ... is cause for banishment from the civil rights discussion,″ Kirsanow told the Heritage Foundation. Thus, he added, ``The discussion of civil rights has not advanced in a meaningful way in two generations.″

In December, Bush appointed Kirsanow, a conservative, to replace an appointee of President Clinton’s. But commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry objected vehemently, saying the Clinton appointee was entitled to a full six-year term.

The commission refused to seat Kirsanow at its Dec. 7 meeting, and the Justice Department has sued in proceedings now in federal court.

Republicans have accused her of acting politically. On Thursday, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee criticized Berry’s ``legal histrionics.″

``There are some who would bar the schoolhouse door to public servants who are Hispanic or African-American simply because they do not think in the way that the liberal left seems to demand,″ Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah wrote in reference to the controversy.

Berry has said she objects to Kirsanow’s appointment on procedural grounds.

Kirsanow did not directly mention the controversy in his speech other than to say he still is interested in the job. He added that he has been personally treated well by members of the commission.

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