Project 21 Release: Civil Rights Commission Refuses to Seat Black Appointee; Black Network Says New Official’s Conservative Beliefs Are No Justification for Discrimination – December 2001

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chairman Mary Frances Berry’s refusal to recognize the appointment of Commissioner Peter Kirsanow is akin to former governor George Wallace’s refusal to integrate the Alabama school system say members of the African-American leadership network Project 21. The fact that Kirsanow is a black conservative is considered to be one of the main reasons for Berry’s actions.

Kirsanow, a Cleveland labor lawyer, was appointed by President George W. Bush to take a seat on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on December 5. He was sworn in as a commissioner at a White House ceremony on December 6. Kirsanow would replace Victoria Wilson, who was installed by President Bill Clinton in 1998 after the death of Commissioner A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Berry contends that Wilson can serve a full six-year term. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, however, says existing law and Clinton White House correspondence says that the Wilson term of service expired when Higginbotham’s full term expired on November 29. In a letter to Berry, Gonzalez wrote “any actions blocking” the Kirsanow appointment “would, in my opinion, violate the law.” Berry said that the only way Kirsanow would be seated on the Commission would be if done so forcibly by U.S. marshals.

At a meeting of the Commission on December 7, however, Berry and the liberal majority of commissioners, including Williams, voted not to recognize Kirsanow’s appointment and refused to record his votes or allow him to speak at the meeting. They also refused to adjourn the meeting even though the dispute could render the decisions made at the meeting invalid because Kirsanow was not allowed to participate. The fight over Kirsanow’s appointment will most likely be decided in the courts.

In a statement released after the Commission meeting, Kirsanow said: “I am… saddened by the realization that this body, which is charged with ensuring that the legal rights of all Americans are protected, is acting in a manner that can only be described as lawless… The work of this commission is simply too important for even a single day to be wasted on the find of tactics we saw here today. I am confident that, in due course, all available legal means will be brought to bear to ensure that I will be able to participate fully in a lawfully constituted Civil Rights Commission.”

Project 21 member Don Scoggins adds: “Ms. Berry is supposed to be an educated woman. Such behavior is out of fashion today, and adds to the kind of divisiveness that the Commission on Civil Rights espouses to eliminate. There are many blacks now coming on the scene who are polished and know how to disagree agreeably. It is unfortunate that our people have lost several generations of opportunities because of the poor leadership seen in the likes of Ms. Berry.”

Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at


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