WASHINGTON - The administration of President George W. Bush is steadily and systematically working to reverse longstanding civil rights policies and impede the enforcement of U.S. civil rights laws, according to a new report released Thursday by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF).
"For defenders of civil rights, this is a perilous time," warned the LCCREF, a coalition of rights and religious groups whose members include the National Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other grassroots groups.
The groups charge that Bush and his aides appear determined to impose what the report called "a radical view of the Constitution in which states' rights are paramount" both through the adoption of policies and regulations that undermine the basis on which federal civil-rights protections stand and by packing the federal appeals courts with "right-wing ideologues."
"While the public's attention has been focused on the threat of another terrorist attack after 9/11 and the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's efforts to undermine civil rights enforcement have received scant notice," said Karen McGill Lawson, LCCREF's executive director.
"As this report demonstrates, the combination of below-the-radar regulations, little-noticed litigation, and severe budget cuts illustrates a pattern of hostility toward core civil rights values and signals a diminished commitment to the idea of non-discrimination," she added.
The report, entitled 'The Bush Administration Takes Aim: Civil Rights Under Attack,' charges that the administration is not only rejecting the next generation of civil-rights protections, such as providing more sanctions for racial profiling by police, it is also actively eroding existing civil rights protections.
First, the administration is approving new regulations that weaken the civil rights of U.S. workers by dismantling existing rules designed to reward companies that demonstrate compliance with civil-rights and other laws relating to worker safety, the environment, and consumer protection.
For example, immediately after assuming office President Bush began suspending the package of measures known as the "Responsible Contractor" rules that ensured that government contracts were awarded only to companies that enforced such laws. They were finally repealed altogether on December 27, 2001, a date which, according to LCCR, suggested a deliberate effort to limit public scrutiny of a potentially controversial measure.
In the same way, the administration has reduced educational equity for women and girls through new Title IX policies and rejected changes in regulations that were designed to reduce racial disparities in federal sentencing rules.
Second, it has worked to reverse civil rights advances through litigation, most notably in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases in which the Justice Department filed amicus briefs aimed at persuading the court that the university's admission policies were unconstitutional.
Similarly, the administration abruptly abandoned a decade of U.S. government support for litigation designed to increase the representation of minorities and women among custodians working in New York City schools. Currently, some 96 percent of custodians are men and only a small fraction are members of minority groups. A similar reversal by Washington took place with respect to a case related to the Pittsburgh Police.
Finally, the administration has undercut anti-discrimination efforts through its budgetary decisions, according to the report. Key civil rights enforcement initiatives have been systematically under-funded, it said, while federal programs to promote education, housing, and health care for low-income minority communities are also languishing due to "Bush tax cuts and multi-billion increases for the Pentagon."
"Civil rights are illusory in a society without quality public education, decent housing, and affordable health care for all citizens," the report noted.
"Leading advocates in the new states' rights movement now control or dominate all three branches of the federal government. They are prepared to move forward toward their extremist goals, even though those goals cannot be reconciled with the bipartisan civil rights consensus of the past fifty years," the report warned.
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